Popular Hits of the Showa Era

RyuRyu Murakami, is one of my contemporary “go to” writers. He’s very good but perhaps more important, he’s very versatile and although his works generally provide a representation of life in the Japan of today, sometimes he writes fantasy, sometimes horror, sometimes hip-hop counter culture. Ryu Murakami is also a talented film maker.

We met Ryu earlier with his scary/gory/upsetting novel Audition. Popular Hits of the Showa Era is almost as violent but the violence is more stylized and less ritualistic. Here the story is of a group of young men who are not exactly friends but they regularly meet to try and find some excitement in their lives. The weekly routine eventually becomes getting drunk, having a rousing game of Stone-Scissors-Paper, and engaging in an elaborate Karaoke show on a deserted beach in the middle of the night.

At the same time there is a similar group of middle-aged oba-san all sharing the name Midori and little else. These women represent an older generation but they too reflect negatively on their lives. One day one of the young men encounters one of the Midori and overcome by rage, slices her across the throat with his favorite knife. A chance meeting of two people with meaningless lives and one is left dead.

What then follows is an escalating narrative of more and more violent revenge.

So you can read this novel as a violent story of revenge, or as a story of the friction between the two generations, or as a warning of the meaningless of life in the modern age, or as an allegory of the history of the destruction of civilization … the entire planet, even.

karaokeAs you read Popular Hits, there are many small elements that seem both believable in the narrative and at the same time suggest something more symbolic. Costumed karaoke on a deserted beach late at night? … worthy of Antonioni or at least David Lynch. Middle-aged masked terrorists with purses and rocket launchers. One by one the combatants fall but the book ends before they are all dead. Is Murakami suggesting that the cycle of revenge will go on and on?

Ryu Murakami has definitely found his literary groove. I was amazed by his first, prize-winning, novel, Almost Transparent Blue, but was very disappointed in his next, much longer attempt at imaginative fiction, Coin Locker Babies. With the highly successful Audition and this novel, Popular Hits of the Showa Era, I am looking forward to anything new by this author.

If you haven’t read Ryu Murakami yet, be warned that he generally isn’t for the squeamish. But if you like your fiction a little transgressive, then give him a try.

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