Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Catching Up #25: Ryu Murakami' In The Miso Soup

If you ever wanted to know what Jason Starr would be like if he was born and raised in Tokyo instead of New York City (and you know you've wondered, dear reader, you can't fool my ass), Ryu Murakami is about as close as you're gonna get. Murakami has a style as simple and direct as Starr's and is just as willing to take his heroes all the fucking way. Not only that, Murakami also has Starr's sly, sick way with satire to boot.

Don't believe me? Well, then fuck yourself, I guess. Nobody's forcing you to read this shit, after all.

Now that I've lost the nay-sayers, we can get down to brass fucking tacks, faithful reader.

In The Miso Soup is the story of Kenji, a young unlicensed tour guide of Tokyo's sex-for-sale districts. Kenji hires out to English-speaking tourists who want his assistance while navigating the Kabuki-cho, a place where anything you desire is available, but where the locals are often wary of gei-jin (white folks). As the book starts out, a weird lard-ass American named Frank has hired him for three nights - December 29-31 of 1996.

From the get-go, Frank is one weird fucking dude. He lies all the time and he just plain looks fucking spooky, but money is money and Frank seems to have a fair amount of it. But the weirdest thing is, there has been some brutal murders as of late, and Kenji gets the sneaking suspicion that maybe this strange American might have something to do with them. But that's just Kenji being paranoid, right?

What makes this novel move - before the sex gets titillating and the violence gets crazy fucking brutal, that is - is Murakami's deft way with the travelogue shit. He enlightens the reader and explains a lot of shit about Japanese culture/sex culture via Kenji's first-person perspective, but it never bogs down the story, never fucks up the freight train pace. There all kinds of insights tossed off, customs of different types of sex clubs revealed, but it is always completely fascinating. It's not like those shitty historical novels you've read where the author insists on explaining boring-ass shit like why they tie the robe this way and not that way for five fucking pages. No, the info you get here is fucking gold, but you assumed that already didn't you? I mean, come on, it's about sex clubs so why wouldn't you be interested?

And not only do we get insight into how all this sex club shit works, but we get a wonderful peek into why modern Japan is what it is and why everyone is just so damned lonely. And that's really what the book is about, Japan's culture of loneliness, this loneliness that has lead to a booming sex industry. And Murakami both satirizes and sympathizes with this culture in equal measure, if you can believe that. Also, Murakami is not a sensationalist or a damning moralist - he does not blame the sex industry for the violence and horror that happens in this novel. Or well, maybe at the.... never mind.

But you're thinking to yourself, "Never mind all the hoidy-toidy shit about Japanese culture and travelogue bullshit and themes and satire and whatever the fuck, Nerd. You're not impressing anyone, here. Tell me about the crime goods, tell me if this shit delivers or not."

Well, impatient reader, I can tell you whole-fucking-heartedly that In The Miso Soup delivers like a motherfucker. There is a scene in this book that was so brutal I could not believe I was reading it. Murakami does not practice restraint in the slightest and thank the fucking stars for that. Rarely do I ever want to look away from a good macabre scene of violence, but the big one in Miso? Jesus. Guy's like a Japanese Allan Guthrie for fuck's sake.

So I really don't know what the fuck you're waiting for, dear reader. The pace is quick, the violence is sick, there's a ton of sex stuff, it's an easy-to-read introduction to a foreign culture, there's sly satire and hoidy-toidy themes, and did I mention that this thing is super short? It's honestly like a one-sitting read - and I never say shit like that. So for fuck's sake, you can't fucking lose with In The Miso Soup. It will shove a fist full of wasabi up your ass and gut you with a samurai sword, but you'll love every dark, fucked up minute of it.

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