“777” an Entertainment Jackpot for Isaka Kōtarō Fans

Entertainment Books

Isaka Kōtarō’s new book 777 follows his previous outing Maria Beetle, which appeared in English translation and as a Brad Pitt movie titled Bullet Train. Ladybug, the same hapless assassin, is back for more action—this time in an inescapable hotel filled with killers and characters with dark pasts.

From a Speeding Train to a Luxury Hotel

“Look, this time everything’s going to be fine. It’s such an easy job.” These are the reassuring words from Maria, the handler, to the hitman Nanao. Maria is unfailingly chipper when sending “Ladybug,” Nanao’s codename, a new assignment, but just as predictably, things go poorly for the agent, who seems fated to always be backed into tough corners in his work.

In the 2010 novel Maria Beetle (trans. by Sam Malissa as Bullet Train), which precedes this 2023 outing, 777 (to be published as Hotel Lucky Seven in summer 2024, in a translation by Brian Bergstrom), the author Isaka Kōtarō placed the action on a Tōhoku Shinkansen “bullet train” (also the title for the 2022 Hollywood adaptation, starring Brad Pitt as Ladybug). In that book, Ladybug is tasked with boarding the train at Tokyo, snatching a suitcase, and getting off just minutes later at the Ueno stop. The preternaturally unlucky hitman finds the train to be packed with multiple other killers, though, and ends up taking a tense, violent ride all the way to the terminal station in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, almost adding his own corpse to the pile that stacks up by the time the trip is done.

The job this time indeed sounds simple: Find a person staying at a high-end hotel in Tokyo and hand him a birthday present from his daughter. Ladybug arrives at the room only to end up in a struggle for his life with its occupant; he ends up killing the man. It turns out, though, that he has gone to the wrong room, and the victim was another assassin. The panicked Ladybug manages to hand the gift to its intended recipient and takes the elevator back down, but it stops well short of the ground floor, and he finds himself face to face with yet another killer who has his own score to settle with the hero.

In Maria Beetle the action took place in the closed space of a train; in 777, the stage is a luxury hotel from which the protagonist cannot escape. Isaka masterfully fills this space with one dramatic confrontation after another, deftly introducing wildly individual characters and creating scenes of high tension throughout. The dialogue sparkles with the wit and humor that are the author’s trademark.

A Perfect Memory and a Killer-Packed Hotel

Kamino Yuka, an unreliable woman staying in the hotel, emerges as the heroine, a protagonist to stand alongside Ladybug in the story. A flawless photographic memory is her main character trait, letting her instantly memorize and recall even pointless information like the terms and conditions of the hotel stay. She excelled in school thanks to this ability, but has walked a lonely, unfortunate path in life; she now works as a clerical assistant for Inui, who appears to be an upstanding man but is actually a broker for various underworld activities.

Inui has Kamino memorize all the intricate details of his work, allowing himself to do away with all physical evidence of his crimes. There are rumors that one of his interests is the dissection of live, anesthetized humans. Kamino, fearing that she is next in line to be “erased” due to what she knows, has asked Koko, a middle-aged woman computer hacker, to help her escape and hide her tracks; the two of them are holed up in another room in the hotel.

Inui discovers where Kamino is hiding and sends six assassins to abduct her and bring her back so she can tell him a secret password that only she remembers. Here yet another pair of killers arrive on the scene—Makura and Mōfu (names meaning “pillow” and “blanket,” calling to mind the whimsically named Lemon and Tangerine pair from Maria Beetle). And in the hotel’s pricy French restaurant, a former Diet member, currently the head of a national intelligence agency, is engaged in an argument with a newspaper reporter striving to dig up his past. With all these characters in place, at last the stage is set for the story to proceed.

Hoping for a Jackpot

The book’s title, 777, signifies a slot-machine jackpot. Kamino, her back against the wall, asks for Ladybug’s help, telling him that “just once in my life, I’d like to hit a jackpot.” He is not so sure he’s the man for the job, though: “I’m the sort of guy who’d probably break the arm off if I played a slot machine. That’s the way life always is for me.”

Just like Maria Beetle, the second novel in Isaka’s Hitman series, this fourth outing is crafted with each chapter focusing on a different character’s action in turn. The narrative is fast-paced and the book can be read in a single sitting. The author introduces numerous stories that seem to move forward on their own, but inexorably draws the threads together toward a single climactic moment. Can Kamino escape from the six killers? Can Ladybug, caught up against his will in this desperate escape, extricate himself from this fresh set of troubles? Readers will be immensely entertained by the answers to these questions as they make their way to the final unveiling of the evil mastermind behind this entire mess.

A reading of Maria Beetle is recommended before taking this work on, but it is one that will not disappoint even consumed on its own. Like its predecessor in the series, this book seems likely to be picked up for translation and publication in English, as well as ideal for adaptation to the movie screen. It almost feels like Isaka Kōtarō had a follow-up flick for Brad Pitt in mind as he put 777 to paper.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: The cover of 777. Courtesy of Kadokawa.)

777 (Triple Seven)

777 (Triple Seven)

By Isaka Kōtarō
Published by Kadokawa, 2023
ISBN: 978-4-04-114147-2

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