Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Murakami Ryu

Originally published in 1994, Popular Hits of the Showa Era was published in a translation by Ralph McCarthy by Pushkin Press in 2013. The novel displays many of the hallmarks of Murakami's writing, there are scenes of wrenching violence and explorations of psyches that usually remain in the shadows. The novel opens introducing a group of maladjusted young men whom have little in connection apart from perhaps a shared disconnection with society, the men party and a reoccurring motif appears in the form of a beautiful woman who appears in a window opposite theirs who through various points in the story is usually spied on in a state of undress. The action of the novel comes into motion when one of the group, Sugioka, murders a woman in what seems to be a random and impulsive act of violence, the victim was Yanagimoto Midori, a woman who was a generation or so older than Sugioka.

This murder introduces us to the two groups which become the rival gangs of the novel, which at various points are referred to as the Midori Society and the Nobue/Ishihara gang. We are introduced to their idiosyncrasies and peer into the generational gap or crack between the two. The Midori Society, who all share the same name with the initial victim are made up ostentatiously of Oba-sans, karaoke buddies, women of a certain age, the group includes a divorcee and others appear to be facing various stages of mid life crisis, but display fantastic abilities and organisational skill when it comes to avenging the murder. The Nobue/Ishihara group is made up of essentially a group of young men who appear to be slightly off kilter, maybe best described as misfits. The novel essentially follows the groups as they progress in taking revenge for the initial murder, taking a member out of each group one at a time, or towards the end of the book that number increases, as does the extremities of the violence and methods used in efforts to exterminate the members of the opposing group.

In places the novel displays a dark humour and there's an equally dark satire going on with these observations of the generational gap taken to maximum extremes of violence, Murakami is uncanny at bringing these hidden pathological psychologies on to centre stage and putting his foot on the accelerator, depicting perhaps the unspoken vengeful impulses of society. With the novel's title in mind the characters of the book reference a number of songs throughout, it could quite easily come with an accompanying cd and perhaps before setting out on a reading of this novel it might help to put on a few tracks by Frank Nagai or Sachiko Nishida to serve as a contextual backdrop.

Popular Hits of the Showa Era at Pushkin Press


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