Murakami Ryu

Murakami Ryu
Courtesy of Kyodo Photo Service

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.

Almost Transparent BlueAlthough 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

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -