SIXTY-NINE PB: Sixty Nine Paperback – Apr 30 2006
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"A light, rollicking, sometimes hilarious, but never sentimental picture of late-sixties Japan"
"A great deal of fun, and Murakami ... is a find."
Los Angeles Times
"The hero is a thoroughly engaging smartass."
"A superb and very funny bluffer, and one sympathizes with him all the way."
World Literature Today
"Full of humor ... sheer entertainment.
About the Author
Having quickly established himself as the enfant terrible of Japanese literature, Ryu Murakami remains at the cutting edge of popular culture in Japan. He is a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction, and his movies and screenplays have achieved cult status.
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Top Customer Reviews
Murakami (no relation to Wind-Up Bird author Haruki Murakami, by the way) is (or bloody well should be) best known in the west for writing the novel upon which Takashi Miike's most astounding film, Audition, is based. (It has recently been translated into English. Miike fans, rejoice.) He first came to the attention of the horror underground, though, with a book called Coin Locker Babies, which, as it turns out, is very difficult to find these days. In fact, I put in a request for it at the library and instead ended up with this odd, fun, rather beguiling little novel instead. (Coin Locker Babies is still, it seems, missing in action. I put in another request for it. We'll see what happens.)
Obviously autobiographical in nature (set in the town where urakami was born, with a protagonist the same age he was at the time, etc.), but one wonders if any writer this side of Fannie Flagg is capable of writing himself with such a jaundiced eye. Ken Yazaki is seventeen in 1969, utterly bored with school (and horrified at the idea of going on to med school, which he has been studying for), grabbing every attempt he can to latch himself into the American-inspired underground culture, and the most unreliable narrator this side of the guy sitting next to you at the lunch counter telling you about the five-foot bass that got away. In order to facilitate getting laid, he and his best friend, Iwase, decide they want to put on an avant-garde festival (Americans old enough to remember the sixties, think "happening" here); music, film, drama, art, poetry, you name it. To this end, Ken ropes in a serious, diplomatic chap named Adama, and the three of them set out to start making music, film, drama, etc.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
...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.
Ryu's message is simple: You win in life by having fun. Whereas Haruki's protagonists are coolly detached (the main character in Norwegian Wood watches the college demonstrations impassively), Ryu's are fiercely proactive--it's Ken that starts the trouble at his school. Although Ryu finishes "69" with a slightly bittersweet ending, the vast majority of the book is about having fun. Rebellion vs. authority, beauty vs. ugliness, extroverts vs. introverts: "69" has few grey areas. Some people might criticize this lack of complexity as a sign of immaturity, but for me it was refreshing to read a book as optimistic and frank as this one.
"69" will bother people aching for hidden meanings (why do people get bothered when an author actually says plainly what he means?) or some kind of bildungsroman formula involving personal growth (Ryu captures the energy and unabashed egoism of a 17 year old perfectly, rather than burdening Ken with some kind of post-modern angst). But really, who cares? Have fun reading this book!
Instead, 69 offers the viewpoint of a youth born in a small Japanese town influenced by western movements of that time, in particular the avant-garde, the political situation and the music of that time. Combining politicos, yakuzas, greasers, rock musicians who only knew how to sing "dontcha know" and play three chords and your average high-schooler, Ryu Murakami has captured a perfect snapshot of youth.
Possible themes involve the concept of American occupation of Japan during that time, Japanese youth and their fickle-minded apathy (combined with a short attention span), but these are only painted with broad strokes as the narrative refuses to dwelve further into these possible issues, although one can guess the author's viewpoint on these issues through their passing mention thereof.
Nonetheless, the time and themes in this novel are immaterial. This novel is skillfully rendered, hilariously portrayed, and light-hearted enough to illicit a laugh from even the most gloomy postmodernists. In the pursuit for heavy meanings, perhaps we have overlooked what 69 represents: it is the beauty of youth that is meant to be lived-- instead of wasted-- that truly counts beneath the mish-mash of social groups presented in this novel.
I'm not sure how much of the book is based on actual events in Murakami Ryu's life, but the story was realistic enough to keep me engaged. Murakami does a great job injecting humor into the first-person narrative, which also serves to develop the main character of Ken. There is a clear pattern: every 10 pages or so, Ken claims he did something sensible, then contradicts himself with "of course that wasn't the case. Instead, I ______."
Without patronizing the reader, Murakami also touches on subjects like national identity, group membership and influences, Japanese culture, and social biases. Though a quick read 69, is thought-provoking and, to me, very effective in setting up several archetypal characters and subsequently refining some while showing the changes of others. As this mirrors real life - some people change while others seem to be older versions of their younger selves - the character studies in 69 are highly compelling.
I highly recommend 69, especially to those interested in Japan or fans of Murakami Haruki or Natsuo Kirino.