In which we discuss; the decidedly American invention of Rock ‘n Roll, the Piano Man vs. the Rocket Man, the curious phenomena of great Japanese writers named ‘Murakami’, and your new favorite ice cream flavor.
There are some things that are uniquely American. Sure, for great art or architecture it would be silly not to look to Europe. I’m thinking the Italian Renaissance; I’m thinking gothic Cathedrals, ancient weathered castles that dot the landscape from Orebro, Sweden to Venice, Italy. But come on, there are a few things we’ve added to the cultural landscape. We invented Rock ‘n Roll. (Elvis did it first and better than The Beatles, and Billy Joel does it better than Elton John.) I’m thinking Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly…heck, an oddball from Minneapolis named Bob Dylan did folk music better than any of those British folkies. The Blues is ours as well. And in my opinion, mostly to the credit of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, America can claim crime noir fiction as her own, too. (Sure, Chandler attended University in London, but he was born in Chicago and put Los Angeles on the map as the private eye/ crime noir capital.) And I would make the case too that classic film noir (which admittedly is informed by German Expressionism) was cultivated here in America.
But sometimes…sometimes you just have to look to the East. The Far East. The Japanese have done wonderful and interesting things for Gangster films, for the Revenge film (not to mention inventing Manga and Anime). I’m thinking of the movies Audition and Old Boy . And there just happens to be a wealth of great literature by a couple of gentleman with the last name ‘Murakami’. There’s not much that hasn’t been said about the brilliance and vision of Haruki Murakami, so I’m going to give the other guy, Ryu Murakami, his dues.
Ryu Murakami’s In the Miso Soup is a modern take on the classic crime noir mixed with healthy portions of suspense. You won’t find the Chandlerian perfected private eye protagonist, nor Hammett’s ambivalence towards morality. In the Miso Soup takes the reader through the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, where vice is bought and sold like ice cream. Like a sexually deviant, narcotic infused ice cream. (I’ll save you some time, Braum’s doesn’t sell it.) Unlike the forbearers of suspenseful crime fiction, In The Miso Soup is also a study in aspects of the Japanese psyche. Much of the book centers on the discomfort the Tokyo sex industry has with foreigners. While not integral to the plot, it does shed light on an interesting cultural nuance.
This book is visceral. Murakami likes his violence and he likes to give you a front row seat. If you like your gangster films soaked in blood, splattering the camera lens; you won’t be let down here. If you got queasy during Reservoir Dogs, perhaps a more traditional suspense novel would do the trick.