Ryu Murakami – Tokyo Decadence

The other Murakami, Ryu Murakami (村上 龍), is hard to compare to the more famous Haruki. His collection of stories reflects the dark sides of Tokyo, far removed from the happy world of AKB48 and the like. Criminals, prostitutes, depression, loss. A bleak image onto a bleak society.

This collection of short stories is a consequent deconstruction of happiness, love, everything we believe to make our lives worthwhile. The protagonists are idealistic students loosing their faith, office ladies on aberrations, drunkards, movie directors, the usual mixture. But the topic remains constant – the unfulfilled search for happiness and love.

I felt I was beginning to understand what happiness is about. It isn’t about guzzling ten or twenty energy drinks a day, barreling down the highway for hours at a time, turning over your paycheck to your wife without even opening the envelope, and trying to force your family to respect you. Happiness is based on secrets and lies.Ryu Murakami, It all started just about a year and a half ago

A deep pessimistic undertone is echoing through these stories, and the atmosphere and writing reminds of Charles Bukowski. This pessimism resonates in the melancholy of the running themes in the stories, Cuban music. Murakami was active in disseminating Cuban music in Japan, which included founding his own label. Javier Olmo’s pieces are often the connecting parts, as well as lending the short stories their title: Historia de un amor, Se fué.

The belief – that what’s missing now used to be available to us – is just an illusion, if you ask me. But the social pressure of “You’ve got everything you need, what’s your problem?” is more powerful than you might ever think, and it’s hard to defend yourself against it. In this country it’s taboo even to think about looking for something more in life.Ryu Murakami, Historia de un amor

It is interesting to see that on the surface, the women in the stories are the broken characters, leading feminists to incredible rants about the book, see the rant^Wreview of Blake Fraina at Goodreads:

I’ll start by saying that, as a feminist, I’m deeply suspicious of male writers who obsess over the sex lives of women and, further, have the audacity to write from a female viewpoint…
…female characters are pretty much all pathetic victims of the male characters…
I wish there was absolutely no market for stuff like this and I particularly discourage women readers from buying it…Blake Fraina, Goodreads review

On first sight it might look like that the female characters are pretty much all pathetic victims of the male characters, but in fact it is the other way round, the desperate characters, the slaves of their own desperation, are the men, and not the women, in these stories. It is dual to the situation in Hitomi Kanehara’s Snakes and Earrings, where on first sight the tattooist and the outlaw friends are the broken characters, but the really cracked one is the sweet Tokyo girly.

Male-female relationships are always in transition. If there’s no forward progress, things tend to slip backwards.Ryu Murakami, Se fué

Final verdict: Great reading, hard to put down, very much readable and enjoyable, if one is in the mood of dark and depressing stories. And last but not least, don’t trust feminist book reviews.

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