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Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami.

8032189

Title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era.
Author: Ryu Murakami.
Genre: Fiction.
Country: Japan.
Language: Japanese.
Publication Date: 1994 (translated in 2013).
Summary: Murakami creates a rivalry of epic proportions between six aimless youths and six tough-as-nails women who battle for control of a Tokyo neighborhood. At the outset, the young men seem harmless, their activities limited to drinking, snacking, peering at a naked neighbor through a window, and performing karaoke. The six "aunties" are fiercely independent career women. When one of the boys executes a lethal ambush of one of the women, chaos ensues. The women band together to find the killer and exact revenge. In turn, the boys buckle down, study physics, and plot to take out their nemeses in a single blast. Who knew that a deadly "gang war" could be such fun?

My rating: 7.5/10.


♥ These young men, in other words, represented a variety of types, but one thing they had in common was that they’d all given up on committing positively to anything in life. This was not their fault, however. The blame lay with a certain ubiquitous spirit of the times, transmitted to them by their respective mothers. And perhaps it goes without saying that this “spirit of the times” was in fact an oppressive value system based primarily upon the absolute certainty that nothing in this world was ever going to change.

♥ Ishihara was startled by how tangible the anxiety was inside him. He’d never experienced anything like this before. He was certain it wasn't simply a matter of his having suddenly uncovered a dread that had always been there. No, this was definitely something new. It was shaped like a fetus. And just as a festus in the later stages of pregnancy kicks the walls of the womb to assert its own existence, the anxiety fetus was sending Ishihara and eerie, wavelike signal that seemed to say, Don’t even think about forgetting I’m here! The signal disrupted and weakened his heartbeat intermittently and caused the image of a tiny, undeveloped human being, it’s back curled forward and a cord extending from its navel like an unspooling fire hose, to blink on and off in his mind.

♥ The Leica wasn’t his first camera, of course - for years he had carried an Olympus Pen given him by his father - but only recently had it dawned on him that the reason he was devoted to photography wasn’t because he particularly enjoyed capturing an image in a frame but because pointing the lens at an object and snapping the shutter was a way of virtually abandoning that object.

♥ They believed it was wrong to want things you didn’t need, and that the people who flaunted Celine scarves, for example, or Louis Vuitton bags or Chanel belts of Hermés perfumes, were essentially people who had no self-esteem. Somewhere deep in their internal organs the Midoris carried the conviction that buying such things was just an attempt, albeit on an extremely primitive level, to “heal one’s wounds,” but it goes without saying that they too aspired to Celine and Louis Vuitton and Chanel and Hermés, not to mention world travel.

♥ In hushed voices they argued the pros and cons of poisoning and bludgeoning and strangulation, and all were shocked and profoundly moved when they realized that they were actually listening to one another’s opinions. Iwata Midori was the first to remark on it. “We’ve never really shared ideas like this, and listened to each other like this before, have we?” she said. “I know,” said Henmi Midori. “It’s like, if you listen carefully to what other people are saying, you can really understand what they’re trying to say, you know what I mean?” And Takeuchi Midori summed it all up: “It kinda makers you see that the other person is really another person.”

After nearly four decades of life on this planet, the Midoris had discovered other people. And by the end of the evening, once they’d scientifically chosen and agreed upon a murder method, they would all hold hands and weep. For women of this particular nation, who had basically never known anything beyond the Banzai Charge, it was a transformative and revolutionary night.

♥ And now that the tip of a brand-new, gleaming sashimi knife had pierced the crepe-thin skin of his own throat and penetrated to a depth of nearly ten centimeters, he experienced the same sense of unreality. The blade rent asunder countless cells and hundreds of blood vessels, and it seemed to Sugioka that another, separate Sugioka was watching from some distance away as the crimson liquid, released from its normal course, issued from his neck in a spray so dense it obstructed his field of vision. The other Sugioka seemed to be laughing, saying not to take this too seriously, that it was nothing but a dream. But why was everything this time so much like the other time? Why was it that you got this weird feeling of unreality both when you murdered someone and when you were murdered? He wondered about this, trying for the first time in his life to reason. As his field of vision darkened from red to black, he was thinking how nice it would be to think about this some more, and talk about it with Nobue and Ishihara and the others, but what that really meant, he ultimately realized, was that he didn’t want to die. At the very end he was seized with absolute terror, but then of course it was all over anyway.

♥ “Meet Me in Yurakucho” was not meant to be sung in this manner but rather in a sad, echoey whisper in a fifties-style cabaret, while beads of light from a mirror ball swirl slowly around the walls; but any pop song in this particular country, when sung by several citizens at once, tended to turn into a mindless celebration devoid of any genuine sense of melancholy.

♥ Though the resulting, oddly metallic ku, ku, ku, kutt! sound they made was plainly audible, the other passengers paid no attention whatsoever to the five of them. No matter how loudly they carried on, none of these young men ever stood out, imbued as they were with the aura of having been utterly ignored since childhood.

♥ She’d waved goodbye as their taxi drove off, and as soon as she was alone something unpleasant took hold of her. She called this unpleasant something “harsh reality,” but of course it was really just herself.

♥ Wasn’t that what they always said? That time heals all wounds (and “wounds all heels”)? But Iwata Midori wasn’t so sure. A lot of songs too were about time solving problems or healing wounds, but the truth was that problems were solved by somebody taking some sort of concrete action, and as for wounds - well, for physical wounds there were white blood cells and whatnot. And for wounds of the heart? The only way to stop obsessing about hurtful things was to focus your energy, and your hopes or whatever, on something else. It wasn’t that time did the work for you, it was just that the deeper the wound, the longer it took to heal.

♥ At the heart of that much stronger “something” was sex, to be sure, but sex wasn’t just about two people getting naked and tangled up together. A lot of other things were involved, things that make you feel so good you forget who you are, and things that feel so creepy you literally get goose bumps, and things you hold so dear you’re afraid to go to sleep, and things that make you so happy you want to bounce up and down - layer after layer of things like that, all mixed up into a sticky mess with the blood and sweat and love juice. Those things got imprinted in your body - not the way the brain remembers words, but engraved or branded on your internal organs. She remembered the anatomy pictures in science class all those years ago - the reddish brown liver and red and blue blood vessels, and the nerves like tree roots, and the cells. An emotion occurred, and the nerves threw switches to alter the blood pressure and heartbeat, and electric pulses shot through the cells, so it wasn’t just a metaphor - these things got imprinted in a solid, physical, biological way.

♥ ...but his subtly nuanced conversation had impressed her. And she felt as if those words had indeed been imprinted on her body. Some part of her had reacted directly to them. It was similar to the sensation of someone’s tongue reaching for you throat in a deep kiss, or the penis being inserted in the act of love. “Meaning” was something that entered your body.

♥ The song was the late Ishihara Yujiro’s “Rusty Knife,” and Sakaguchi’s singing was so bad that it gave the lyric a strange new pathos and poignancy. Listening to his version, Suzuki Midori was reminded that no one ever said it would be easy to go on living in this world; Takeuchi Midori pondered the noble truth that nobody’s life consists exclusively of happy times; Henmi Midori vowed to remember that it’s best to keep an open heart and forgive even those who’ve trespassed against us; and Tomiyama Midori had to keep telling herself that hitting rock bottom is in fact the first step to a hopeful new future.

♥ “Nobu-chin! Nobu-chin, say ‘Congratulations on the New Year’!” The closest Nobue could get was something like, Kon raw yoo rayon la la Roo Ya, at which Ishihara collapsed on the tatami and rolled about, laughing hysterically. Nobue didn’t mind. He knew now that when you’ve been badly damaged emotionally or physically, it isn’t the people who are mournfully sympathetic or overly careful about your feelings that help you out so much as those who treat you as they’ve always done.

♥ After repeating bar after bar of the sobbing reggae rhythm and intoning the words a couple of hundred times, they stopped and looked at each other. Something, the sensed, had begun to take shape inside them, something that might just serve to revive their flagging spirits. They didn’t know it at the time, but that something was rage.
Tags: 1990s - fiction, 20th century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, fiction, foreign lit, japanese - fiction, satire, social criticism (fiction), translated
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