Three Assassins (Grasshopper) by Kotaro Isaka (2004)
Grasshopper directed by Tomoyuki Takimoto (2015)
In August I did a Bullet Train book vs movie, which is also a book by Isaka. The movie I liked well enough, I loved the book! There was a character named Suzuki in that book (he was omitted from the movie) who was significant, but even after reading the book twice I couldn’t figure out what his presence meant. Then someone told me Suzuki is a character in the book Grasshopper (English translation is titled Three Assassins) and in this first book we learn about him and therefore understand his role in Bullet Train.
It took me a while to find this book, because I was looking for it under the name Grasshopper, not realizing it was retitled Three Assassins. Anyway, I finally found it and absolutely loved it! Isaka is a master when it comes to endings, as both books have just the perfect end! I also love that once again, we have a colorful cast of characters, dark humor, and plot twists along the way. I will say I like Bullet Train better, but he did write that one five years later so he had honed his skills a bit more.
Anyway, I had so much fun with this book, but it also covers some serious topics and has a great message in the end.
Book-How Suzuki got involved
In book and movie Suzuki is working for a company called Fraulein, trying to get women to buy these beauty products and diet drinks. He knows the business is shady and they use forceful methods to get woman to sign up but he does it anyway.
His wife, in the movie his fiancée, was run over and killed and he found out the person behind it was the son of Terahara. Terahara is the leader of an underground organization-Fraulein, so he got a job with them as a way to infiltrate them and get revenge on Terahara junior.
In the book he has been working for them for a month and his superior, Hiyoko, tells him they know about his wife and they suspect he wants revenge. They recently drugged two young people who were interested in the beauty products, and she tells him if he kills them, they will trust him. Terahara junior is coming by in person to see him do it. Suzuki plans to kill Terahara junior once he shows up, however as they see him across the street, he is mysteriously pushed into traffic and dies.
Hiyoko tells Suzuki to follow the man leaving the scene, who they assume must have been the Pusher. An assassin who kills people by pushing them into traffic, making it look like an accident.
Suzuki follows the man to his home and the next day pretends to be a test prep teacher in order to gain intel and find out if this man, who has a wife and two kids, is really the pusher. Hiyoko keeps calling, but he won’t tell her where he is.
Movie-How Suzuki got involved
In the movie, Suzuki knows to work for Fraulein because someone slips him a note telling him they were involved in the death of his fiancee. In the book he finds this out by doing his own research. In the movie it seems he has been working as the beauty salesman for one day. He finds a young woman who is interested and he and Hiyoko take her to their office where Hiyoko drugs her.
She says they need to see junior to see what to do with the girl, but as in the book, as junior is arriving, he is pushed and Suzuki chases after the man he thinks pushed him.
In the movie he goes inside the Pusher’s home, but in the movie, it is because while he is outside, the Pusher’s two kids run out saying they need help and there is a fire in the kitchen. He helps put out the fire, then as in the book says he is a test prep teacher and spends time with them. He has turned his phone off, so he can’t be contacted by Hiyoko.
Book-Cicada and Iwanishi
Cicada is a hit man who works with Iwanishi. Iwanishi is his handler basically, but when we meet Cicada, he is starting to resent Iwanishi and feels like he isn’t treated with enough respect. He does one job, then Iwanishi tells him he has another right after. Cicada takes the job but gets distracted on the way when he sees two men beating up another guy and gets involved and fights them. He heard them asking the guy about where Suzuki was and the Pusher. (Hiyoko has told people to find Suzuki, because he will lead them to the Pusher. Terahara obviously wants the Pusher dead since he killed his son so every hit man in the area is on the lookout for Suzuki since he is the only link to the Pusher.)
This interaction makes him late for the appointment and misses his chance to kill the target, who had been another assassin named the Whale.
From here, he decides to find Suzuki, and then find out where the Pusher is and kill him and therefore get respect and be able to move on from working with Iwanishi.
The Whale is an assassin of sorts, he doesn’t kill people, but rather gets them to commit suicide. He works with politicians who need someone dead in order to cover up a scandal or some sort of corruption. When we see him, he is getting some politicians secretary to commit suicide, so that the politician won’t be to blame for something he had done.
The politician though is nervy and is worried the Whale will tell someone about him and therefore hires Iwanishi and Cicada to kill the Whale. But because Cicada is late getting to the job, the politician is left alone with the Whale, the Whale figures out it was a setup, and then has the man kill himself.
We see that the Whale is plagued by those he has “killed” and at random times their ghost will appear and when they do, he kind of blacks out and can only see the ghost and not those around him. He lives in a homeless encampment and one of the fellow homeless men seems to have some kind of inner sight and tells the Whale that he needs to clear his accounts so he can be at peace and move on with his life and not have these ghosts showing up.
Part of clearing his accounts means finding and killing the Pusher because there was a woman he was supposed to have killed but he didn’t. However, she was killed by the Pusher the next day. For the book I thought this was kind of a flimsy reason for the Whale to want the Pusher dead.
Movie-Semi and Iwanishi
In the movie Cicada is called Semi but it’s the same thing where he is the killer and Iwanishi finds the jobs.
We see him on a job and the man he kills mentions Terahara. In the book, his jobs were unconnected to Terahara. But in the movie, it seems everything comes back to Terahara in some way.
Anyway, in the movie these two have their bickering like in the book, but here it seems they have a care for each other deep down. In the book, Iwanishi cared about Cicada in a sense, like when Cicada tells Iwanishi he is going on his own to find the Pusher, Iwanishi is proud of him.
But in the movie Semi definitely cares about Iwanishi.
In the movie, Terahara hires Iwanishi to kill the Whale (in the movie the Whale is called Kujira). Terahara wants him dead because he thinks Kujira knows too much. However, Kujira finds the tracking device that Iwanishi put on his RV, and Semi never has the chance to kill him.
Kujira shows up an Iwanishi’s place, and gets him to commit suicide, but not before Iwanishi has a phone call with Semi and the two have a touching moment before Iwanishi tells him that he is about to die because Kujira is right there. He also tells him in code, that he put the tracker back on Kujira. Then he jumps out the window and dies.
In the movie Kujira kills people the same way, but as said, he works for Terahara, they aren’t political hits like in the book. In the movie he is followed by ghosts as well but the only one we see talk to him at first is the ghost of his dad. We learn that his dad was abusive and at 15 he killed his dad. This abuse and experience of killing his father is what gives him the “hollows” in his eyes which cause people to want to kill themselves when they see him. In the book there is not backstory like this.
In the movie he knew to look for Iwanishi because he had his photo and he asked a contact who told him. The movie kind of has the “clear your accounts” thing, but it was more of a plot point in the book.
In the book, Suzuki has a great visit with the Pusher and his family and is touched. He therefore decides he won’t turn them in. Hiyoko calls once again telling him she needs to see him and that Terahara junior is still alive. He buys it and tells her he will meet her. The Pusher gives him a ride-neither has admitted the truth to each other-and when he goes to see Hiyoko, he passes out because she drugged his drink.
They take him back to headquarters and are about to torture him to find out where the Pusher is. However, this is when Cicada comes in, kills the guys but Hiyoko lives, and he grabs Suzuki and they get in a car.
Suzuki realizes he is in just as bad a situation because Cicada just wants him to find out where the Pusher is.
However, the Whale was hiding in the car and grabs Cicada.
The Whale kills Cicada, like actually kills him by shooting him because Cicada doesn’t go through with killing himself.
Meanwhile, the Pusher had been following where they took Suzuki, and he shows up and gets Suzuki while the Whale and Cicada are distracted.
Suzuki tries telling the Pusher his wife and kids are in trouble, but the Pusher isn’t concerned. We find out that he isn’t married and the wife and kids are part of a group called the performers. They aren’t assassins but participate in illegal activities. The group has had it with Terahara, and so they hired the Pusher to kill the son. They then set the Pusher up with a fake house with fake wife and kids to keep things under watch. They knew Terahara would be after the Pusher, so they purposely tried to be followed, so they could be in more control of the situation. They gave Hiyoko their address, using Suzuki’s phone, but they gave a different address to throw Hiyoko off their trail.
Meanwhile, the Whale finds Hiyoko and goes with her to the Pusher’s house, but of course it isn’t the Pusher’s house. But then Hiyoko gets a call saying that Terahara has been killed by those two people they had drugged and been keeping at their headquarters, that Suzuki had been supposed to kill. The reason they had seemed too gullible is because they wanted a way in to kill Terahara and they are an assassin duo called the Hornet.
From here, the Whale goes back to where he had killed Cicada, in hopes Suzuki will show up. Suzuki does show up, to get his wedding ring that had fallen off.
The Whale looks at Suzuki, and Suzuki is filled with guilt for what he did to the women he sold the “beauty products” to. They were addictive drugs, and one woman he saw a week after selling her on the products, and she was all drugged out and rugged. He justified it though saying he was getting revenge for his wife and that he would do it at any cost. But he realizes how his wife wouldn’t have wanted all these innocent people to have been hurt just so he could avenge her death. Suzuki is filled with these thoughts, when the Whale mysteriously falls in not the road as a bus drive by and he is run over and killed. We can assume that the Pusher was there and saved Suzuki’s life.
In the movie, before leaving the Pusher’s house he warns him that Terahara is after him. Then he goes to see Hiyoko, and they beat him up. In the movie, though, Terahara lost interest in the Pusher because they found out about Suzuki’s wife and assumed he hired the Pusher to avnge his wife. So here they wanted to Suzuki to kill, not to get him to tell them where the Pusher is. Anyway, Terahara is there and torments Suzuki with footage of his dead fiancée and in the footage, we see she was hit because she was rescuing a small boy.
From here, Kujira shows up, and then Semi shows up because he was tracking Kujira. Kujira wants to kill Terahara, since Terahara had wanted him killed. He and Semi get in a fight, and long story short, Semi pushes he and Kujira out of a building and they fall to their death.
Meanwhile, the girl they had drugged earlier, gets out of her handcuffs and kills Terahara and his men.
Suzuki wakes up, he had been passed out, and when we flash forward one year, he is at an amusement park working as a clown.
While there, he sees the woman who was the Pushers wife and one of the kids. This is her actual son, and she tells him that her group gave him the card telling him to work for Fraulein and baited him the whole time so they could kill Terahara (the girl that was drugged but then was actually an assassin). She says her son wanted to see him though, and we find out her son is the child the fiancée saved and there is a touching moment as he hugs the boy.
Book and movie thoughts
Whew, that is quite the overview of the plot! That is one of the reasons I love this book as well as the book Bullet Train. They are detailed plots that have quite a bit going on, but it ties together so well!
I love in Three Assassin’s that the Whale will have various ghosts showing up. Once he kills Iwanishi and Cicada, the two of them show up and that was just such a nice touch. The movie has the ending with the ghosts of Semi and Kujira hanging out which was a nice end.
I really love the book ending with Suzuki realizing that he was willing to harm whoever he had to in order to get his revenge and realizing that that isn’t a good thing and it isn’t a good way to keep his wife’s memory and I was sad the movie changed that. Also, in the end of the book, Suzuki is back working as a teacher. But in the movie, he is a clown at a park…like, why?
The American book title is Three Assassins which is fine, I’m not a huge fan of the title but it’s not bad.
The Japanese title, and the title of the movie is Grasshopper which may not be the most grabbing title. Yet it is one that makes you think as you read the book. There are multiple times in the book when humans are compared to insects. The Pusher talks to Suzuki about how grasshoppers are solitary creatures that live peaceful lives; yet when they become surrounded by other grasshoppers, they all become locusts which are bigger and can wreak havoc. He says humans become locusts when surrounded by other humans. Suzuki I would assume is a grasshopper since he is still a peaceful person by the end, whereas the various assassins have a negative view on humanity and they themselves are locusts, and view others as such as well.
Bullet Train tie in
Funny enough, the movie Bullet Train doesn’t have the characters that tie it to Grasshopper. But in terms of the book, Bullet Train has Suzuki, who is now older and is on the train visiting his wife’s parents. He says he wasn’t able to see them for a long time because of the memories, but he is finally doing it. He also interacts with the characters in that book at various times and often has words of wisdom for them. We also hear that he gets that hollow eyed look the Whale gets in Three Assassins.
The Whale is also referenced in Bullet Train and people speculate what happened to him.
The Pusher is a key character in both books, but I won’t say what role he plays in Bullet Train because it is kind of spoilery.
The Hornet is talked about in Bullet Train as well because they talk about how the Hornet killed Terahara.
Book vs movie
This movie is fine, but honestly it isn’t one I would highly recommend. It is available for free on YouTube, so if you don’t have anything else to do it is one way to kill two hours. It isn’t a bad adaptation, but the book was just so much more in-depth and I love the message it has at the end. I also preferred Suzuki’s flashbacks to his wife more in the book than I had in the movie. For example, she is worried she will be forgotten when she dies, and that is one reason he always has to have his ring-as a way to show she will always be remembered.
And I love any book or movie that has the premise of all these hitmen going after the same thing or person. We had that in Bullet Train, and here in the book, we have that because everyone is looking for Suzuki, who can lead them to the Pusher.
This book is a pretty quick read and I would highly recommend it! It is more violent than the book Bullet Train had been, so head up for that.