Saturday, August 16, 2014

Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami

I haven't read any of Murakami Ryu's novels since Almost Transparent Blue came out in English back in 1981 or so, and now I realize I've been missing out. Popular Hits of the Showa Era is the latest of his works to be translated into English (thank you, Ralph McCarthy, for a very lucid translation), and brings me back to the edgy, odd, quirky, violent, dysfunctional, disenfranchised weirdness of Japanese society which I ordinarily am not privy to. I sometimes wonder about the other folks on the trains here in Tokyo and speculate about their hidden lives...

Popular Hits of the Showa Era is surprising for the seemingly random way two loosely-formed groups of friends are thrown together in an increasingly surreal clash of revenge and retribution that spirals into chaos of shocking proportions. Six young men in their twenties ("hikikomori/otaku" types) evolve into a bonded friendship of sorts while six middle-aged ladies similarly coalesce into a friendship group. One spontaneous act of mindless violence sets into motion a revenge cycle that motors the plot through the otherwise completely mundane lives of these 12 individuals.

Popular Hits is a work of satire and humor that made me laugh out loud despite the over-the-top slashing, blood, sex, and pyrotechnics which I do not normally find entertaining. As a social commentary, Popular Hits has sharp teeth. This one was a lot of fun, and I will definitely seek out the other nine or ten translations of Murakami's that I've missed in the last 30 years.

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