|BIG IN JAPAN
|Courtesy of Kyodo Photo
Japan never really had the
equivalent of the Angry Young Man phenomenon - the beat and psychedelic movements largely
passed it by, and in the ' and early '70s student radicals were more concerned with
Japan-US defense pacts than with turning on and dropping out. From that time, however, a
small group of writers gained fame both at home and abroad, thanks to their works
questioning materialism and searching for alternatives. The two most well-known proponents
are Murakami Haruki and his unrelated namesake, Murakami Ryu.
Born in Nagasaki in 1952, Murakami Ryu came to Tokyo to enroll in the Musashino University
of Art, but dropped out when he discovered that he was better suited to being a writer. He
attracted literary attention with his debut novel, 'Almost Transparent Blue," a
gritty tale of a group of young Japanese who hang out near the Yokota US military base,
filling their time with drugs and casual sex. The novel won the Akutagawa Literary Award
in 1976, and went on to sell over two million copies. Murakami wrote and directed the film
version of the story in 1978.
His works available in English are '69" (that refers to the year, folks), a more
light-hearted story of high school graduates struggling to make sense of a rapidly
changing Japan, and 'Coin Locker Babies," where two orphans grow up to lead bizarre
but interconnected lives in modern Tokyo.
Although Murakami Haruki's works tend to have dreamlike narratives and
charming, whimsical characters, Murakami Ryu's novels are considerably darker and more
realistic in tone. His characters lead frequently empty and nihilistic lives, searching
for meaning in an increasingly materialistic and shallow society.
His output in the '90s (sadly untranslated) includes a fictional investigation of the drug
ecstasy and its influence on young Japanese, a book of interviews with such luminaries as
George Lucas and Richard Branson and a book of essays which had started life as a series
of letters to his ex-lover. In 1993, he wrote and directed the film 'Tokyo
Decadence," a tale of a callgirl and her sado-masochistic relationship with a top
business executive. Murakami has gained a reputation as a one-man permissive society
through all the sexual demons he's trying to exorcise.
Recently, Murakami has hit the headlines again, but not because of bedroom misdemeanors in
print. He's just released a non-fiction book called 'Ano kane de nani ga kaeta ka,"
(What could we have done with the money?) which contains ideas (some practical, some
humorous) on what to do with ´7.4 trillion. Why that particular sum? Because that's what
the Japanese Government paid out to a number of banks that, because of bad loans made
during the good old bubble days, were struggling to survive. The book contains some real
eye-openers and describes how hard it is to imagine in real terms the amounts of money
politicians are playing with, and how accountable they are for it. 'Japanese leaders don't
tell the public anything," Murakami said in a recent interview, 'they just expect the
people to follow." There's still a lot for this not-so-young man to be angry about.
John Paul Catton