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.

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I found myself in a unique position this weekend:  the book I found at the library had the same title as one of the films on my Netflix queue. Here was an opportunity to read the book (it was a quick one) and then watch the movie for comparison.

First, a refresher on my theory of adaptations. A movie is a different art form from a novel and although they might be the same story, the methods and techniques used are different and the intended effect on the reader (viewer) may differ. However, although I see how adaptations in art are valid, I still can prefer one form to the other (think of all the Hamlets out there, from Lord Larry’s debacle to Mel Gibson’s laugh-riot).

For this comparison the book was Audition by Ryu Murakami (a fun author) and the film adaptation was by the director Takashi Miike.

One thing I like about Japanese fiction is that it includes a form which tells an interesting, but not unusual story and along the way delivers a major twist to the narrative. Generally, in O’Henry fashion, the twist is at the end of the story but often it is in the middle and radically changes the remainder of the narrative. In Audition the twist is at the end where the protagonist (and the reader) discovers that the demure, soft-spoken beautiful woman is actually a violent sicko. The novel contains several clues along the way but typically nothing more than a few questionable statements made by the young woman which don’t seem to check out. For the most part, her dishonesty is explained or understandable without suspecting that she is demonic.

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