Ira Ishida was born in 1960 in Tokyo, and grew up as a bookworm, particularly absorbed in American science fiction and mystery. He graduated from Seikei University, but didn’t get a fulltime job until his mother died, when he became a copywriter. In 1997, after many tries with various genres, he won an award for his very first mystery novel, which was made into a very popular TV program, Ikebukuro West Gate Park scripted by a new and rising playwright, Kankuro Kudo, and eventually adapted to a Manga series. With that success, he became a novelist, and won the prestigious Naoki Prize in 2003 with his second collection of short stories 4 Teen. His pen name was taken from his family name, Ishidaira.
His works usually deal with contemporary affairs, like street gangs in Ikebukuro West Gate Park, and male prostitutes in Call Boy. He also loves media exposures, and appears a lot of TV programs, as well as acting in a theatrical film. He lives with his wife and son.
Q&A with the Author
Have you always wanted to write fiction?
Yes. When I made up my mind to be an author, I was just seven. It took me thirty years to realize it, though.
Why use a pseudonym?
My born name has ten syllables, which looks too long, and I always wanted my name to sound nicer and lighter. So I took the first five syllables and fitted them into nicer characters. You can’t determine my gender by this neutral pen name, and I’m content with it.
In Call Boy, Ryo is completely cynical about life, until he falls in love with trying to understand female desire. Have you ever felt completely cynical, and if so, what got you out of it?
Cynical views are very common among the youths in the liberal countries around the world, I think. Ryo grows out of it by building serious relationships with women, and I, too, could grow out of it by working in the society as well as writing.
What kind of research did you do to write Call Boy?
I researched the sex industry in Japan and interviewed its workers, but the biggest and finest research always is one’s imagination.
How long did it take to write Call Boy? What were you reading when you wrote it?
It took me six concentrated months. I seldom read books then but listened a lot to piano music by Debussy.
Do you believe in love? What is love?
Love is what you have to believe in, no matter how you are suspicious. We’ve been looking for what love is for thousands of years, without finding an answer. It’s wonderful to keep on contemplating an answerless question, I think.
Have you spent time in the locations where Call Boy is set?
I visited all those places in the novel. If you visit Tokyo with your lover, I heartily recommend you to check in one of those Japanese love hotels. It’ll be an interesting experience.
Ryo is expected to go to university and get a proper job, but he finds another way to live. Did you feel pressured to go to university and get a job? How are Japanese youth meant to deal with that pressure?
It’s a rule of our business society to get a job at a corporation at your college graduation. I was expected to join the others by taking that golden ticket of job interviews as a new graduate, but I did drop out. I took precedence in freedom over economic stability. Either you flee just to be crushed, or endure it and grow, there’re only two options against that pressure.
Sex is an essential part of the human experience, but one that some Americans are not comfortable with portraying in media. How was Call Boy received in Japan?
It was said to have crystalline quality and cleanliness about its sexual descriptions. Female readers took it high and some of them thanked me in person to write about their closeted desires. We have little religious inhibitions, and are sexually liberated better than the Western societies.
The characters in Call Boy are very realistic, at times crude and jaded. Were you concerned that people wouldn’t sympathize with them?
Authors don’t write fiction to earn sympathies from the readers. I just write about people as I see them. At the moments of our privacy, at the apex of our sexuality, we’re all real, crude, and jaded. Isn’t that what a human being is? I love people in that way.