Plenty of blood and food for thought In the Miso Soup>
In the Miso Soup
By Ryu Murakami
Translated by Ralph McCarthy
Published by Kodansha International
By Kevin Wood
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
In his more than 40 books, author Ryu Murakami (69, Coin Locker Babies) has strived to shock Japanese readers into a reaction, to wake them from their complacency and ennui and convince them to recognize and act upon their individual nature. The most recent of his works translated into English, In the Miso Soup, continues in that vein
Winner of the Yomiuri Literary Award in 1998, In the Miso Soup, with its jarring portrayal of horrific violence, caused a stir when it was serialized in 1997 The Yomiuri Shimbun around the time a 14-year-old boy decapitated a child in Kobe.
The novel revolves around Kenji, a 20-year-old independent, unlicensed nightlife tour guide who specializes in showing foreign tourists around the seamier side of Kabukicho’s red light district, and Frank a middle aged American with a murky past, a wallet full of 10,000 yen notes who appears to specialize in hypnosis and murder. A few days before the end of the year, Frank answers Kenji’s advertisement in the Tokyo Pink Guide and hires the young man to guide him through “the massage parlors and S&M bars and “soaplands” and what have you” for three nights, the third night being Dec. 31, which Kenji has promised to spend with his 16-year-old girlfriend Jun.
However, the wrath of a jilted high-school age sweetheart is the least of Kenji’s worries. He is first contacted by Frank while reading a newspaper report of schoolgirl’s dismembered body being found in Kabukicho and from the first time he meets the American, he senses there is something not quite right about him. By the end of their first night on the town, spent reading a Japanese-English glossary of sex terms aloud to giggling hostesses at a lingerie pub and taking a few swings at a batting cage, Kenji suspects Frank is the killer.
Midway through their second night together his suspicions are confirmed when Frank slaughters everyone in a matchmaking pub with a sashimi knife in one of the most grisly scenes you are likely to read outside of an old Tales from the Crypt comic.
The most stunning thing about the murders aside from their grotesque brutality is Kenji’s reaction both during and after the killing. He is stunned into utter submission, even when Frank leaves him alone in front of a police box after suggesting he go to the authorities, Kenji cannot summon up the courage to turn the psychopath in and ends up returning with the killer to the abandoned building Frank has been living in and listening to him tell his life story.
On New Year’s eve, the third and final night together Frank wants to hear the 108 chimes of the temple bells, promising to release Kenji afterwards.
The novel touches on a number of subjects and themes common in Murakami’s work: the symbiotic love/hate relationship between Japan and the United States, teenage prostitution, the generation gap in Japan and the moral vacuum of modern society.
Murakami was born in Nagasaki Prefecture in 1952 and spent the first 18 years of his life living in the shadow of the U.S. Navy base at Sasebo. He was kicked out of school for his part in protesting the U.S. military presence. His debut 1976 novel Almost Transparent Blue about young people turning to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll in response to the absence of protest against the U.S. military domination of Japan won the Gunzo Prize for New Talent and the Akutagawa Prize while the young author was still an art school student.
In that novel, African American soldiers abuse Japanese prostitutes who refuse to resist their ill treatment. In similar fashion, Kenji cannot seem to even criticize Frank to his face, much less act to halt his murderous rampage. The only time he refuses Frank’s commands to take part in the circus of the macabre, it simply means Kenji gets to sit out that particularly gruesome dance while still being spattered in his front row seat. Murakami, who has previously described himself as “a child corrupted by America” seems to be pointing out that Japan is still in thrall to the violent, magnetic and often schizophrenic culture of U.S. dominance.
He also explores the cracks in the Japanese system at length, speculating that high school girls engaged in enjo kosai are “selling it” not simply because they can, but for the cold comfort being desired brings to a lonely life and for the reinforcement of the their individuality being chosen by men gives them. He is critical of the hypocrisy of those who live only for financial gain while criticizing others for the same lifestyle.
In the Miso Soup has plenty to say about Japanese and American culture, provide one can get past the salty depictions of horrific violence. Ralph McCarthy’s able translation captures the rough argot of street life without distracting from the story and preserves both the brutality and finesse of Murakami’s original work.
"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Plenty of blood and food for thought In the Miso Soup>
Follow the money
Looks like the Democrats will have some money to counter the Republican cash from Haliburton, Bechtel et al.
George Soros has also contributed heavily to campaigns to legalize marijuana in Nevada and other states and has contributed billions to democracy projects in the former soviet bloc, Asia and Africa. He is becoming my favorite James Bond villian millionaire - those people so rich they could be villians in Bond movies (think Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and thier ilk)Billionaire Soros
takes on Bush. Ousting president ‘central
focus of my life,’ he says