Popular Hits of the Showa Era: A Novel Paperback – Dec 21 2010
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Murakami’s novels are filled with entertaining psychopaths.... it’s a reminder that he’s one of the few subversive writers we have. — Nathaniel Rich (The New York Times)
About the Author
Ryu Murakami is the best-selling author of more than a dozen novels and the winner of Japan’s prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. Many of his novels have been made into movies, including Audition. He lives in Japan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As in other Murakami novels both groups find solace and togetherness in meaningless violence and neither can fathom the senselessness of the others, nor of themselves.
As in all Murakami novels sex (or the lack thereof) is one of the protagonists' core motivators. The Midori Society have loved and lost, they are the generation of women who were (and remain) little more than window dressing to ex-husbands imprisoned by work and the paradoxical reality that success is defined by a crippling mediocrity. Sugioka's group, meanwhile, is composed of what initially appear to be outcasts-- rejects who can't communicate with anyone else, much less themselves. However, as time passes and blood is spilled, it quickly becomes apparent that these young men make up the core of Japanese society and, in fact, of their generation. They are among the millions of anonymous matchstick youth living, working, and commuting in the soulless, sexless suburbs of Tokyo; never nurtured, never realizing that they, like their mortal enemies have "stopped evolving."
At first it was hard for me to grasp the main characters' disturbing lack of empathy or humanity, but the more I dwell on it the more I think that Murakami is spot on, despite the oddities of translation here and there. These are people who have been trampled on, stolen from, destroyed and reconstituted; spit on for their ignorance and then turned around and told to contribute to the machine that created them.
This is, without a doubt, Murkami's weakest work yet, full of contrived escalation, odd throwaway characters, and a weird preoccupation with female sexuality that's not nearly as elegant as drawing dicks on the wall of a bathroom stall... However, it is an unsung ballad of truth and an examination of a lost generation-- something to read once and then digest like a bitter placebo. It explores and toys with the depths of my generation's (men and women born in the Showa Era) darkness but offers no real relief.
I think, the problem lies with Ryu Murakami being able to only tackle a few characters at a time. There were far too many characters for him to keep track of this time around so they all come off as hollow and underdeveloped, and the attempts at development are flat and uninteresting. At one end, this is kind of the point because the characters aren't supposed to be strong individualists but at another end it just translates as a boring read and results in an unlikable cast.
Reminds me of Brett Easton Ellis at his funniest or a Chuck Palahniuk book with less redeemable characters. It lacks the reality, humanity and abject misery of Hubert Selby, Jr.
Definitely not for those who don't like black as coal humor, nor those who abhor violence, but for me I loved it!
This is an absurd comic novel and cultural satire set just after the completion of the Showa Era, which refers to the reign of Emperor Hirohito from 1926-1989. The first set of main characters are six young men, who are each nihilistic misfits that have been largely abandoned by their families and the larger society, but find common ground in each other and a shared interest in mindless violence and an elaborate and somewhat disturbing karaoke ritual. If you can visualize a group of Beavis & Butthead clones on steroids, you've got them pegged. They have little emotional connection to anyone, and they harbor an inexplicably deep hatred of Oba-sans, or aunties, the seemingly ubiquitous dowdy women past their prime period of attractiveness. As one of them says, "They always say that when human beings are extinct, the only living thing left will be the cockroach, but that's bullshit. It's the Oba-san."
One of the young men, filled with unfocused rage and vengeance, approaches an Oba-san who is unknown to him, and murders her in broad daylight. The woman is one of the members of the Midori Society, consisting of six thirtysomething women who all share the same last name and the same fate as unmarried, undesirable, purposeless and unfulfilled women who are equally as nihilistic and amoral as the young men. They learn who the killer is and take their revenge on him, which sets off a war between the two factions that is a cross between a bizarrely funny Looney Tunes cartoon and a mindlessly and increasingly violent B movie.
Despite all of this, I actually enjoyed this novel, which I found to be a biting critique of the nihilism, crassness and commercialization of contemporary Japanese pop culture, one in which its admirers seek instant gratification and bear no concern for the consequences of their behaviors or actions.
The plot centers around two bizarre groups. Six young men strangely lacking in normal emotions drift together and start partying on a regular basis. And six loveless women in their late thirties, with nothing in common but the name Midori, meet regularly to socialize.
In both groups the members talk to each other without listening, eat awful food, drink a lot and play at karaoke. Their get-togethers are mindless and ritualistic.
Violence erupts and escalates between these two groups with a shocking progression that's both unbelievable and totally involving and convincing. I'm leaving out absolutely all the details so you can take the stomach-churning roller-coaster ride for yourself.
There's also a diabolic catalyst who stirs up trouble, a junior college girl with "a smile like rotten eggs and mildewed cheese and poisonous toadstools." The brief but pernicious appearances of this astonishing character are oddly amusing.
Popular tunes add yet another layer of unreality to the story. The sentiments of these songs have no meaning to the disconnected characters singing them. As one young man remarks, "Murder is the only thing that has any meaning these days."
Murakami's scenes sometimes remind me of a Cezanne still life - disturbingly off balance yet doggedly colorful. He's a brilliant, idiosyncratic, weirdly funny writer who focuses on the most unexpected things. I was fascinated, for example, by his endlessly nuanced descriptions of imbecilic laughter.
Popular Hits of the Showa Era is intense, but I'm glad I read it. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy pondering the human condition - and aren't squeamish about carnage or pathology.