January 31, 2011

Guest Post: “After Dark” Book Review by Kenji Crosland of TeachStreet

Four Stars

This is a guest post by Kenji Crosland of TeachStreet.  TeachStreet is an online community dedicated to providing local and online classes, from classes on fitness to the language arts.

After having lived in Tokyo for five years, a question that I’d often get and always found difficult to answer was: “What’s Tokyo Like?”  Try as I might, I never could really come up with a good answer.  Tokyo’s a huge city and one district is so different from the next that I have always found it difficult to provide an adequate answer. After reading Haruki Murakami’s latest novel “After Dark,” I almost feel tempted to tell people, “Have you ever heard of ‘After Dark’. Read that and you’ll know what Tokyo is like.”

In the opening paragraph, Murakami describes the city as a “a single gigantic creature—or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old. To the rhythm of its pulsing, all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm.”

Murakami then flashes a montage of vivid images, of “teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from microminiskirts” and “dark-suited men racing across diagonal
crossings for the last trains to the suburbs”. We’re pulled along at an incredible pace until, suddenly we find ourselves in a Denny’s, where two of the main characters, Mari and Takahashi, first meet.

The characters in After Dark are vivid and real, but not quite of this world, like photographs with the colors turned up too bright.  There’s Kaoru, a former woman pro-wrestler with a dyed-blond crew cut who manages a love hotel, there’s the Japanese salaryman who happens to like beating up chinese prostitutes.  There’s Eri Asai, a beautiful young model who falls into a mysterious sleep one day and can’t be awoken.  There’s Mari, Eri’s studious and bespectacled sister, who became an insomniac the very time Eri started sleeping.  Finally, there is “The Man With No Facem” a character whose motives we never really understand and who always makes the reader feel uneasy any time he steps into the scene.  Even though we probably haven’t, we feel as though we have met all of these characters before. I suspect that some of us have even met “The Man With No Face” somewhere in our dreams.

Like the “intertwining organism” that is Tokyo, the book has several plots, although it’s hard to say which plot is the main one.  Sometimes it feels as though the plots are only there as a way for us to get to know the characters better.  Although the plot line of the Chinese mafia chasing down the evil salaryman who beat up their girl is interesting, what is more interesting is to see Mari and Takahashi get caught up in it, and in the process get to know each other better.

Overall, “After Dark” is a pretty good read.  One which, as a former Tokyo resident was full of many “Aha!” moments.  It doesn’t quite reach the sublime levels of his epic Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World but it serves as a great introduction to Murakami’s wonderful body of work and a definitive answer to the question: “What’s Tokyo Like?” http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelrogers/2692043315/sizes/m/in/photostream/