Sunday, 15 February 2009

"In the Miso Soup" by Ryu Murakami

"Gaijin" (if you don't know) is the somewhat unflattering term, used by the Japanese, to describe the equally unflattering phenomena of creepy white men who visit Japan expecting it to be a hotbed of underaged compensating dating (school girl prostitution) and hentai-esque soap box brothel's who are desperate to get the chance to service 'happy happy, whitu man, desu!'.
In fairness, my recent sight of cosplayers walking into my local anime shop, scribbling manga drawings on drawing pads and carrying video camera's announcing, their plans to go to Newcastle's China town, as if it were an expereince rather than a shopping trip, makes me somewhat more understanding of exactly why Ryu Murakami could (and should) have took the piss out of us.

'In the Miso Soup's' delightful Gaijin is Frank, a fat, shiny skinned pervert, in tight pants, gripping a well read and sticky issue of The Tokyo Pink Guide, who has enlisted the help of Kenji, the story's protagonist to be his translator and guide. Kenji is not entirely innocent as a character, he neglects his girlfriend, has a cynical to the point of grossly apathetic view on life and mocks all those who help him earn his somewhat dubious and highly illegal living. I liked him a lot.

The story itself takes over the course of three days, or nights to be more accurate, as Kenji takes Frank round the streets of Tokyo, explaining the in and outs (pun intended) of the Tokyo street life, from the scams, the philosophies on foreginers and what a person may find themselves paying or expecting to enjoy on a night out in Japan's capital. It makes for interesting reading and I'd reccomend the book to anyone planning to visit Japan for its sex industry in the same way I'd reccomend someone thinking of having an affair to watch Fatal Attraction. There is a wonderful bleakness in Kenji's account of the Tokyo nightlife, his language (at least in the English translation) is informative to the point of castrated and souless, depicting the sex lives of the night wonderer's as unpallatable, depressing and above all hopeless. It makes the comparison of his own love life with girlfriend Jun to be all the more meaningful and safe, something which Kenji begins to appreciate more as he spends his time with Frank, this seems to signifies the entirity of Kenji's character developement.

Frank is your typical fat perv, and Murakami's descriptions of him as this huge, glassy skinned American, whose eyes display cold, malevolent evil, with face can suddenly turn to that of Belezebub himself when told something he doesn't want to hear, can be off-putting to the reader as it seems buried in very, very bad cliche. Its the same as the horror movie character tweaking that something maybe wrong with the secluded country mansion because of the sixfoot long mounds of earth in the garden, but still being suprised when the mute daughter of the landlord attacks him in the night with a sharpened dolls foot. Frank kills people. I am not giving anything away with that, its on the book's own synopsis and its in the first few lines of the book if you have an IQ above a toaster. If you have the 2006 Bloomsbury edition as I did, the decapitated manga girl head on the cover should also be a small clue.

The suprise, or to be more exact, creepy charm of the story is not that Frank may or may not be a killer, its Frank's reaction to the world around him. Frank is at his creepiest, as are most seriel killers when they explain their actions, and Frank's are more compelling then the usual, Mommy repressed me and Daddy beat me psycho-babble of most mass killers such as the guy from Red Dragon and Norman Bates. There's a subtler and bleaker reason for Frank's behaviour and whilst we can disassociate ourselves from most killers due to our comparatively duller or happier child hoods, we have no such comfort with Frank. Oddly, whilst Frank is a very creepy but bumbling character at first, he becomes infinitely more likeable after the hideous episode that proves Kenji's worst fears and what the rest of us had guessed from looking at the books spine (the decapitated head was on that too).

The cliche and obviosu direction of the first half does not make this a bad book, in fact I loved this piece and it made me want to read more of an author I'd only picked up because I mixed his name up with Haruki Murakami. In the Miso Soup is always compelling and very atmospheric. Guro fans pleased with Murakami's other master piece Audition will keep reading in anticpation for the gore anyway but suspense is still there for the average reader. Whilst you're almost sure whats going to happen, you always have this strange niggling doubt and in the second half the confusion doubles. I throughly reccomend it to anyone with a slightly stronger stomach who doesn't cry at the first sight of a limping puppy.

Its one of my personal favorites and one of the few books capable of making me feel an emotion after reading it, mainly one of bleak, bleak, sadness and a need to shove wasabi nuts down my throat and watch a marathon of Bleach and Inuyasha to make Murakami's awful, awful truth go away.

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