Haruki Murakami Explores
Tokyo After Dark

by Ted Gioia

Haruki Murakami’s
After Dark takes place over the course of seven hours during an
autumn night in Tokyo. From midnight to dawn we follow five lost souls: a woman in
a quasi-comatose state; a jazz musician at an all night practice session; a prostitute  
                      assaulted at a “love hotel”; a salary man working late on a
                      software project; and a 19-year old girl looking to escape from
                      the tension of her strained home life.  Before the sun rises, each
                      of these stories will intersect with the others.

                      Murakami has long been admired for his depiction of the
                      isolation and loneliness of modern Japanese life. Some have
                      lauded him as the J.D. Salinger of Japan. Murakami has even
The Catcher in the Rye into Japanese, and his
                      breakthrough novel
Norwegian Wood captured some of the spirit
                      of that coming-of-age classic.
Norwegian Wood sold four million copies,
and struck a resonant chord with a younger generation of Japanese readers.
focuses on a similar theme of Japanese youth struggling to reconcile their ideals
with the stultifying conformity of the surrounding culture.

But the comparison with Salinger fails to do justice to the peculiar, surrealistic tone
of Murakami’s fiction. Readers of
Kafka on the Shore, Murakami's best known work in
English translation, will recall fish falling from the sky, a man who could converse with
cats, and various other bizarre touches.
After Dark evokes a similar dream world
ambiance. People disappear into television sets, or find that their image remains in
the bathroom mirror even after they have left the room.

Murakami focuses, in his words, on “the secret entries into darkness
in the interval between midnight and the time the sky grows light,”
a time when “no one can predict when or where such abysses will
swallow people, or when or where they will spit them out.” Much of
the power of his stories comes from the paradoxical quality of their
settings, which at one moment seem intensely realistic, but the next
instant have veered off into a mysterious alternative universe.

Much of
After Dark will be familiar, even to the Western reader. The
book starts in a Denny’s, and along the way we visit a 7-Eleven,
check out TV shows, and listen to rock and jazz music. But these are
all part of Murakami’s elaborate set-up. The moments of normalcy never last long in
his narratives.

Murakami’s willingness to twist and turn his plots in strange directions is reminiscent
of the work of French director Jean-Luc Godard. It is perhaps significant that the love
hotel in
After Dark is called Alphaville, the name of Godard’s inspired 1965 film. In this
movie, Godard presented a dystopian sci-fi world in which no special effects were
used and the sets were Parisian streets. The strange planet, in essence, was very
much like our own.

Murakami achieves a similar effect here. His
After Dark is a potent and disturbing
work, one that is all the more effective for the familiar aspects it presents. He
reminds us that the essence of horror in the post-modern narrative is not some
gothic extravagance, but the realities that await us outside our doorstep.

by Haruki Murakami

The strange plot twists
never stop in
masterpiece.  We
encounter talking cats,
fish raining from the
sky, Colonel Sanders
working as a pimp in a
run-down back alley,
and two Japanese
soldiers who have
been lost in a forest
since World War II.   
The danger of such
surreal flourishes is
that they can
overwhelm the
narrative flow, and
impart a fractured,
improbable quality to
the plot line.  But
Murakami avoids
these pitfalls, mainly
by creating a series of
vivid, plausible
characters -- Kafka the
runaway, Hoshino the
blue collar truck driver,
Nakano the visionary
old man, Miss Saeki
the melancholy
librarian -- who
capture the reader's
heart and maintain
momentum to the
story.   If you haven't
yet experienced the
Murakami magic,
Kafka on the shore is
the place to start on
the journey.