Mention the name Ryu Murakami and there are usually visions of nihilism, self-destructive sex and drugs, and a dismal portrait of the scum-encrusted shadow world of the rebellious youth of Japan. After all, this is the author of the novel that spawned the film "Audition" and who wrote the infamous opening lines of "Coin Locker Babies," "The woman pushed on the baby's stomach and sucked its penis into her mouth; it was thinner than the American menthols she smoked..." Pure punk rock on page. No future. So, pick up a book titled "69," the fourth book translated into English by the prolific author, and your expectation is...
...anything but this. Anything but a brilliant, light-hearted, fast-paced trip through the lazy hazy days of the Summer of 69, a time of unprecedented freedom when a guy and his good buddies could throw together a band, a rock festival, and maybe a little bit of student rebellion all for the hope that the prettiest girls in school might be just a little more impressed with them and let them in on that magic secret they keep under their skirts. Don't get me wrong, this is still punk rock, but this is punk rock before it got a name, and still had the skin of innocence and the youthful sheen of tearing things down with hope for a better future. This is just fun.
As he did in "Almost Transparent Blue," Murakami has stitched together his own past with a dream of idealized youth, creating a believable world of kids giving full reign to their impulses, free from the controlling influence of authority. His protagonist in "69," Kensuke Yazaki, didn't exactly just get his first real six-string at the 5 and Dime, but he is the drummer for a garage band that plays the latest Stones and Cream, although they have never had a real gig. He drops quotes of Rimbaud poetry and recommends counter-culture books, although he has never actually read them. He would totally smoke marijuana if he knew how to get any, and he would totally join in on the Free Love movement if any girl would let him.
But Yazaki is a small-town kid, and while he can read about the goings on in San Francisco and even Tokyo, maybe fantasize a bit, his own little backwater town isn't exactly bursting into the future. He's not going to let that stop him, though. He's got a plan, he's got a buddy, and he's got a girl to impress. He's seventeen years old, its the summer, and the year is 1969. Its time to do something stupid, something outrageous, and have a good time.
Ryu Murakami shows his range with "69." He is a lot more than the dark shadow of modern Japanese literature, much more than the Batman to Murakami Haruki's Superman. Most of all, he sums up what it means to be young all in one line. "Victory went to whoever had the most fun." Amen.