Ryu Murakami’s Popular Hits of the Showa Era, translated by Ralph McCarthy, is the first novel of his I’ve read since, years ago, I gave three of his older works a shot. Almost Transparent Blue, Coin-Locker Babies, and Sixty-Nine were all, as I remember, bizarre and grotesque works largely about alienation. So is this one, though while it’s still grotesque it seems decidedly less so, and possibly also more upbeat and fun. It certainly seems like an easier read, although the squeamish might still not be up for reading about this extremely unconventional Tokyo gang war.
On the first side are the six young men who have weekly “parties” that consist of snacking on convenience-store-bought food, drinking, and driving out to abandoned lots to put on their own private karaoke show. They sit around getting drunk and giggling maniacally, unable to actually speak to each other about anything. If they’re lucky, a sexy neighbor might get undressed before her evening shower. Then they put on skimpy leather costumes and sequinned kimonos and sing songs from the Showa Era, over and over again, for hours.
The facts about the boys’ individual lives are not very important, nor are the differences between them. They seem basically interchangeable as instantiations of a single type: angry, mute, powerless, confused, isolated, alienated, aimless young men. One of them, Sugioka, likes to play with knives. After a particularly wild night, hung over, he stabs a middle-aged woman—an Oba-san, or Auntie—in the throat, completely thoughtlessly, after imagining that the folds in the back of her skirt spelled out the syllables for “shite,” the Japanese version of “do me.”
Sugioka’s victim is Yanagimoto Midori. She’s a member of the Midori Society—that is, a group of six women all named Midori who are not really friends but
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