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People who create 2025

Masaki Maruyama

Novelist

Masaki Maruyama – Is this a mystery novel?

2024.05.20

His novel “Deaf Voice” was chosen at the final selection of the Matsumoto Seicho Award which was his first novel in 2011 when he was 49 years old.
Deaf people with various personalities were “living” inside the novel with a focus on CODA (Child of Deaf Adults).
After this, he has written 13 novels one after another as if given a supportive push by those voices of the people welcoming his novels.
The story and lines in the novel shakes our heart by portraying a vivid society of human lives.

Understand the feeling of CODA
who is in a place between borders

―The novel “Deaf Voice” is a highly successful mystery novel with a focus on the main character “Arai”, who is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). Why did you choose to make CODA the main character instead of the deaf regarding the theme of deaf community?

Maruyama I couldn’t write any “masterpiece” novel before writing “Deaf Voice”. At that time, I was writing a novel to enter an amateur novel competition, but I was groping in the dark to find the right topic. Meanwhile I was reading many books and met by chance about deaf people and Japanese sign language. I was surprised and impressed and thought “Wow! I didn’t know such world existed” and wanted to make this into a novel to let the whole world know. Although, it was difficult to write with a focus on the deaf or in the perspective of the deaf. Of course I am not a deaf person, and I did not know any deaf people at that time. I thought it would be impossible to understand and write a story with a focus on the deaf. I couldn’t write because I didn’t know what to do. That’s when I knew about the people of CODA. This also surprised me. I didn’t know about this word itself and never heard of it before. Now it is gradually becoming to be known thanks to the movie “CODA”*, but nobody knew about CODA 13 years ago. That is why it felt so fresh and I became to understand the feeling of the people of CODA little by little after taking a closer look. People who are not deaf or hearing person existing between borders. They are suffering or at a loss due to this. I myself is not a deaf or a CODA, but I felt that I understood the feelings of CODA. Now that I think of it, it seems quite arrogant. But by writing a story with a focus on “Arai” as the main character, who interprets for their parents from early childhood, creating a distance with family and one who cannot keep distances from others, it came into me easily. The story came naturally to me. So rather than making CODA as the main character, I was able to write a story by knowing the existence of CODA.

*”CODA”:It is a co-production movie between USA, France and Canada which was released in 2021. A story with a focus on CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who is the only hearing person in the family restructures the relationship with the family with the passion of music. CODA won numerous awards, including all three nominations at the 94th Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Kotsur, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ruby’s father, Troy Kotsur, is a deaf actor who won the Oscars for the first time.

―Have you started to write from the beginning by seeing yourself in “Arai” who is a CODA?

Maruyama When I was writing, I tried to put myself away from “Arai”. As I created special settings like CODA, I tried to create a person who is struggling against oneself which is completely different from me. But after finishing writing the novel, strangely people that I know told me that “Maruyama-san, you are similar to the character Arai”. I had no intention of doing so, but they made a good point such as keeping a distance from my parents and siblings being unemployed, not expressing my true feelings to close lovers or friends. They said that that’s exactly where we are similar. I was consciously aware of writing close to myself for the second novel after that. I was able to deeply understand “Arai” when I was writing about myself. Even when making it into a series, experience of remembering or learning new things when “Arai” is committed to the deaf community again, “Arai” became an existence like an alter ego close to oneself in sinc with the process of knowing about deaf and sign language.

―Approx. 110,000 copies of ”Deaf Voice” were published and surpassed the total sales of 150, 000. It is read by many people. Were there various reactions?

Maruyama I like to do the so-called egosurfing. I am checking through various comments about my book, and luckily I rarely see any negative comments about my book. They often say that you should stop checking the comments as it will make you feel shocked, but luckily I do not have that experience so I am fortunate for that.
Among these, when I received comments from those concerned saying “Thanks for writing about us” or “Nobody wrote about us”, I am really glad my work paid off. I have received many comments even from those not concerned including “I didn’t know that”, “I was surprised”. That is the same surprised and impressed feeling that I felt when I first knew about the deaf and Japanese sign language. Furthermore, I have received other comments saying “I didn’t even realize myself to have a sense of prejudice and discrimination and realized that I was doing the same thing”. An unconscious sense of prejudice and discrimination within oneself is exactly what I am writing about. As I was writing this, I was really grateful to know that the all the readers felt the same way.

The main character became an existence like an alter ego.
*Courtesy of Masaki Maruyama

―”Deaf Voice” also mentions about the various community and difference in way of thinking with the hard of hearing.

Maruyama I didn’t understand that much when I was writing the first novel, and was emotionally involved to focus in the deaf. So I felt sorry and scared that maybe if the late-deafened or moderately hard of hearing people read this, they would have an unpleasant feeling. However, I don’t know why but even these people said “It was really great” or “Thanks for writing”. Maybe they were grateful to be included in a story which nobody wanted to understand about them despite some difference. Although while talking with them when taking the opportunity to thank them, I understood that the difference was not just a little. I have always had the feelings towards people of deaf culture and not just the degree of hearing and my self-identity was there. However, I wrote this novel so that I wanted everyone to know like I knew it that there are many different types of people who cannot hear or have difficulty hearing like a gradation of colors.

(Above)With the director Eri Makihara of the movie “LISTEN”and Dakei Shizuku.
(Below)Director of documentary movie “Glittering hands” : Bora Lee-Kil
Number of deaf and CODA friends have increased thanks to the movie “Deaf Voice”.
*Courtesy of Masaki Maruyama

The drama hit the big screen in an ideal form
A reborn movie

―The novel was made into a NHK drama starring Tsuyoshi Kusanagi the other day. How was it adapted into a drama series?

Maruyama Novels that attracts a little attention tend to be contacted by the film industry about making into drama series or movies. “Deaf Voice” had several offers to make it into movies for over 10 years. But it was typical for a novel to miss the chance for many reasons before making into movies and wasn’t successful for a long time like other novels and not just mine. When I tried to give up, one production company requested to submit a plan to NHK where Tsuyoshi Kusanagi was decided as the cast which was 3 years ago. It took some time from there, but I think it became a great drama… It is not just self-praise. It was worth the wait and I think eventually a great project came in the end and the drama hit the big screen in an ideal form.

―It became viral that a deaf actor did the role of a deaf, but was that a condition from you for making it into a movie?

Maruyama Not a condition but a strong request from the original author. I always make three requests whenever I hear about making into a movie. The first request is to be able to choose the sign language supervision by myself. Deaf sign language interpreter supervised and taught sign language in previous dramas and movies, but I wanted a deaf person to do that role. Furthermore, I wanted to ask a person that I trust and not just any deaf person. Sign language supervision/trainer was decided smoothly. The second request was to use a deaf or hard of hearing actor. NHK staff did not know about deaf actors at that time. If there are deaf actors let’s meet them and hold auditions on a large scale. However, this became a definitive audition. All the producers saw the audition and was surprised and impressed. This could not be done by the persons concerned, and seems like they decided to use deaf actors seeing the expressiveness of the deaf before one’s eyes. I said “I requested this” at lectures, but actually it was wrong. All the deaf people said it was the power of Mr. Maruyama, but that was not the case at all. The third request was to have more movies with subtitles.

―The fourth volume has been written for ”Deaf Voice” and every novel writes various perspectives of deaf and sign language from different angles. Is there a plan for the fifth edition?

Maruyama Actually, time passes in the “Arai” family when the novel “Deaf Voice” is not written and everyone is growing. The marital relationship between “Arai” and “Miyuki” is also changing daily. So I want to write about those relationships, but it is very complicated and difficult. It’s a strange thing to say something even though it isn’t written down yet. I think “Can I write this”, “Will the fans leave if I write this”. So it is a really tough problem to decide when to write.

“Arai Family” time passes through Mr. Maruyama
at the same time with his own.

―I have heard that the novel is planned to be made into a movie in Korea.

Maruyama There was plan to make the movie in Korea for 4 years and the director, Moon Ji-won submitted the plan. Director, Moon Ji-won was not known at that time and had written the script for the movie “Innocent Witness” in the past. This is a movie about an autistic girl witnessing a murder case and attend the trial as a witness, but whether a witness by an autistic girl can be recognized or not. This is similar to the setting of the second Deaf Voice series “Ryu No Mimi Wo Kimi Ni” that I wrote. I was surprised to know that we had a similar taste. I started this plan because I believed that I could trust director, Moon Ji-won to do whatever she wants. However, we didn’t have enough money・・・. The drama “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” which she wrote the scrip became a big hit all around the world after 3 years have passed. Before I knew it she was in the limelight. We began to collect enough money. Just one year has passed now. However, I was shown the first draft of the script but this story in this movie is totally different from the novel. Probably only the basic settings is same. I believe in them as the power of entertainment in Korea is strong. The movie is not flashy but nicely varied.  On the contrary, I am excited to see it as it is totally different.

Junior High School days, soaked up in watching dramas

―You were working as a screen writer in the past, but what have you been working on?

Maruyama A screen writer is a professional job. In short, there is an original at the point of order and requested to write a story like this, so as a professional I have been working on how to finish the script as an entertainment. Categories will be low cost action movies to erotic ones which were called V-cinema at that time. It still appears when I do a search so I think I can call it a dark past. I was doing my best as it was quite challenging and I could demonstrate my abilities as a professional screen writer but I think it didn’t fit me. It sounds strange to me. I am trying to write something good like before, but my script is not recognized at all and remained unnoticed. Now my novels have been recognized a little. I’m sure there are some things that do and don’t suit each other.

Screen writing training course.
Receive certificate of completion from Kaneto Shindo, former late president.
*Courtesy of Masaki Maruyama
Working part time at an advertisement production
while screen writing training.
I am what I am now because of those days.
*Courtesy of Masaki Maruyama

―You even wrote the script for the video made by the government?

Maruyama I have been making a so-called human rights video together with the Human Rights Bureau. After all, I couldn’t make a living as a screenwriter as many of you image in dramas and movies. I have been living a long time by writing enlightenment dramas or educational dramas as the source of one’s livelihood.

―Did you become a screenwriter because of what you learned in the drama department at university?

Maruyama I belonged to the faculty of literature, drama department at Waseda University where I did not do any drama but mainly research. I have been fond of novels from childhood, and the first time I wrote a story was when I was in the late elementary grade. I became to like movies in Junior High, and then dramas. I knew about the profession of screenwriting there. It was the golden age for the three major screenwriters, Sō Kuramoto, Taichi Yamada, Kuniko Mukōda during my Junior High School days. I was soaked up with watching wonderful dramas. That is why I was very influenced by them. Especially the two major screenwriters, Sō Kuramoto, Taichi Yamada, became my blood and flesh and has made me who I am today. Anyone who sees it will understand many places which have been influenced by them in my works. For example, when “Deaf Voice” became a drama series, and created a history of so-called family, and describing the growth of a child. I have been totally influenced by Sō Kuramoto’s “From the North Country”, and wanted this drama to become the same. The story of a wheelchair person in “Wonderful Life” is based on the “First step of the wheel” from “The Roads Men Travel” by Taichi Yamada.

―Do you have a drama in particular which left a big impression on you?

Maruyama It is “Early spring sketchbook” by Taichi Yamada and “Zenryaku Ofukurosama” by Sō Kuramoto. Especially when I saw “Early spring sketchbook”, it was time to think about finding a job. There is a line saying “Don’t give up on yourself. We are not humans just to get worried about high salaries or becoming happy that the train is empty”, “We have the power to deeply, widely, softly move the world if we feel like it”, “We have a life that fits how great we are”, I thought I want to live a life like that!Thanks to Taichi Yamda, I took a very wrong turn in in my life. I didn’t think I would be facing a difficult time from then.

The works of major screenwriters who have buildup my path
has been lined up on a bookshelf.
*Courtesy of Masaki Maruyama

Unconsciously supporting the discriminatory side

―A disabled person is often shown in your works as one of the characters, but are you aware  of it?

Maruyama It would be a lie if I say I am not aware of it. I don’t mean to write about the disabled person and minorities. Then when do I want to write novels is when I see someone unreasonably troubled. When the existence is largely not known. That keeps me motivated to write.  I cannot write a novel if I am not strongly motivated. That is why half of my motivation is “anger or indignation”. The remaining half is just a calculating feeling of “Everyone will be surprised if they knew this”. What drives me to write novels is when taking up something that no one has written before or done before. As a result, my novels leads to things that still isn’t really known by anyone or to the existence of minorities. Especially as I was a person with a stammer and my wife was a severely disabled person, I had many opportunities to interact with the disabled on a regular basis. But I feel I have already written down everything that I know. I think I will be looking at something different from now on.

―The word “Social Architecture” *appears in your book “Wonderful Life”. Please tell us your thoughts about this.
*Social Architecture:To physically and technically control peoples actions by architecture

Maruyama I just happen to know the word itself, but I thought that “our actions are sometimes designed without knowing it”. For example we are unconsciously supporting the discriminatory side like the hostile architecture*. There is something hidden behind beautiful or pretty things, or what everyone was doing was actually different. There is a proverb that says “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”**, but I think we need to be careful about this. I wrote this as a warning to myself. I feel it is set up everywhere in subtle ways.

*Hostile architecture:Sculpted objects which physically prevent the public use of specified people. Benches with partitions to prevent the homeless from sleeping there was shown as an example in the book by Masaki Maruyama”Wonderful Life”.
** The road to hell is paved with good intentions:English /German proverb. 1. Wrongdoings or evil actions are often undertaken with good intentions or 2. Good intentions, when acted upon, may have unintended consequences.

―There are many scenes where the characters in the novel say harmful words or behaviors that hurt people. Why is this?

Maruyama People sometimes hurt someone without bad intentions, or unconsciously discriminate against someone from unconscious prejudice. That is the same with me and I think the readers will realize they are like that as well. Actually, I think the reason why there are so many sad incidents happening is because of those non-malicious behavior. A genuinely malicious person will not understand no matter what I say, but they might understand or be careful in the future if I talk to them for actions without bad intentions. That is why I think stories or entertainments can tell something. But I don’t think this can change the world. It is a warning to myself. I am writing by saying to myself “Are you not doing this!!!

Characters in the Maruyama’s novel comes to life
through detailed human observation and repetitive self-discipline.

―Do you have any topics or subject you would like to pick up in the future?

Maruyama I am interested in women’s issues these past few years. When picking up human rights issues in Japan, disabled persons or foreigners visiting Japan is raised, but women’s issues are included. Women’s issue is the leading issue. Women are not minorities. They comprise about half of the population. Nevertheless, why is it that the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights raises women’s issues as the leading issue of human rights issues in Japan. There are still things that are not talked about regarding women. While I feel that it is better for a women to write about women’s issues, I want to share men’s opinion by changing the perspective. That is why I wrote the book “Husband, will you die”. I am aware of the persons concerned, and had some conflicts whether to write about women. However, I got over it and moved on. There are things that can be told because they are not the persons concerned, and could raise interest towards the twisted persons who only listen to them when men wrote about women. I decided to not be afraid to write by overcoming the persons concerned.

It doesn’t have to be equal, I want it to be fair.

―What is the better society that you envision?

Maruyama It is a very simple way of saying it but I would like it to be a fair society. I see it often these days but when the disabled persons sends a message or claim on social network if they have problems, they will be bashed by the media including “Be more humble”, “Don’t forget your gratitude”, “Don’t feel like doing something for that kind of person”. I can’t stand this. I want them to be aware that it is already the privilege of the majority to no need to insist. I want them to understand that they have to claim even though they know they will be bashed if they do so. It is totally not fair to be criticized. They are not standing at the same start line. I cannot stand when they slander without even understanding that. It doesn’t have to be equal, but I want it to be fair. People think that sign language interpreters are there to support the people hard of hearing, but it is actually for the person who can hear. Resolving what people think is inconvenient leads to resolving inconvenience of other persons concerned. Creating a society where people with disabilities and foreigners can live comfortably also means to creating a society where healthy people and Japanese people can live comfortably.

―What shall we keep in mind to come one step closer to a better society?

Maruyama What I keep in mind every day is to look, listen and understand the other person properly. I think it is important to sincerely look, listen, know, consider the person in front regardless of whether that person is a minority or not. When deciding something important for people with certain attribute, decisions are often made in the absence of a party with those attributes. I think that is the biggest problem. If we are saying an inclusive society, we need to begin by listening to those people. For example, there are no problems using sign language as an entertainment, but I want you to know what the persons concerned will think when they see that. It is not something you can do to spread sign language. When I say this, people will respond by saying “If you have to say something that difficult, I won’t use sign language anymore” or “No one will spread sign language anymore”. First of all, listen to what the people using sign language think. I want you to start from there.

―Tokyo 2025 Deaflympics will be held next year for the first time in Japan! What are you looking forward to?

Maruyama Tokyo 2025 Deaflympics will be held in Tokyo for the first time. First of all, I want them to become interested by thinking “What is Deaflympics”, “Why is a competition held exclusively for people who cannot hear?”. I want people to know and understand step by step that people who cannot hear are playing sports or living by devising ways to make various things visible. I think the games will definitely be the trigger and I am looking forward to it.

―Please tell us your goals for 2025 and beyond.

Maruyama I am planning to partially release the fifth series of “Deaf Voice” next year in some magazines .I can’t control what happens or the actions of the characters so I am also afraid. I want to continue writing something that shakes the values and worldview of the person reading it. Personally, I like “painful stories” so I also want to write something like that someday.

Photograph by Uta Mukuo

Masaki Maruyama/Born in Tokyo
Novelist

Born in 1961. Graduated from Waseda University. After working as a screenwriter, made his debut with the “Deaf Voice” which he entered for the Seicho Matsumoto Award.(Paper back bunko subtitle, “A Sign-Language Interpreter in Court”)Following, a sequel of “Ryu No Mimi Wo Kimi Ni”, “Can’t hear the wailing”, “At the Table Without Me” and the spinoff series“Detective Izumori” released one after another.
He has been continuing to write about various social issues including “Wonderful Life”, Young carer themed “Kids are alright”, “Welcome Home” with the special nursing home as the setting. His latest book “Husband, will you die”(Futabasha Publishers Ltd.) was released on Oct. 2023.

Instagram:masaki.maruyama.18
X:@mamaruyama

 

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