Popular Hits of the Showa Era is Murakami's take on the hopeless, lonely malaise that pervades the existence of our generation, those of us in our twenties and thirties born into a world that doesn't know them and can't support them. It's an absurd, effeminate Japanese Fight Club where the participants turn on each other in a vain attempt at toppling the emptiness of their lives.
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.