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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

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298: Miura Yuichiro
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