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You Don't Have to Put on the Red Light
In The Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami
Member Name: miwa
In The Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami
Advantages: Well written, insightful and frightening
... but you might need to keep a night-light on if you want to sleep again after reading this book. Ryu Murakami, famous for his more gruesome psycho-horror novels, has pulled no punches with this novel In The Miso Soup. Another in a long list of torturous thrillers, it compounds the seedy underworld of Tokyo with the agitated darkness of the human soul.
Our protagonist, Kenji, is an average twenty-year-old guy: he has a girlfriend named Jun and he is pretty fluent in English. However, instead of going to university or the average 9-5, Kenji organises sex tours of Tokyo's red-light district specifically for foreigners. Kenji's knowledge of Kabuki-cho is as astonishing as it is mundane: he knows the best place for the cheapest lap-dance and when to go to right street corners at the right time; he makes small-talk with the girls at the peep shows, the hostess bars, and the strip clubs - while his clueless client can only shift nervously or unabashedly stare, not understanding a word.
Kenji, while not untouched by debauchery, does have a light in his life - and he has promised to see in the New Year with her, his girlfriend, Jun. That is, until a client, Frank, contracts him for three nights of nightlife with money Kenji just can't refuse. Though Frank is seemingly an average client, something about him unnerves Kenji, and after their first night perusing Kabuki-cho Kenji decides to call their arrangement off - but Frank won't let him go so easily. With a backdrop of horrific killings terrorising the city and Frank's increasingly bizarre behaviour, the first half of In The Miso Soup grasps your imagination and bleeds it for all its ghastly speculations. Who or what is Frank - beyond his demeanor, his lies, and even his face?
The second half of In The Miso Soup an eye of the storm. Ryu Murakami not only has a rather twisted imagination and knack for building tension, but his keen insight also permeates the interactions between Frank and the women of Kabuki-cho, but most importantly Frank and Kenji. Beyond the sleaze and the artifice, there is a choking loneliness in the streets of Tokyo's red light district echoed the lives of both our protagonist and antagonist. Rather than attempting to elicit sympathy from Frank's rather grotesque childhood, In The Miso Soup instead asks us to consider the emptiness, the hypocrisy of both American and Japanese society - not only in its underworld, but in the undercurrents that tie society together so irrevocably - and how easily they can be manipulated or sliced away.
In The Miso Soup is a competently shocking and gutsy thriller, but more than that, it is self-aware, and asks the audience to consider what drove them to seek out such macabre excitement in the first place. To quote Frank:
"People who love horror films are people with boring lives... when a really scary movie is over, you're reassured to see that you're still alive and the world still exists as it did before. That's the real reason we have horror films - they act as shock absorbers - and if they disappeared altogether, I bet you'd see a big leap in the number of serial killers. After all, anyone stupid enough to get the idea of murdering people from a movie could get the same idea from watching the news."
This pop-culture cross-examination, within the confines of what could so easily be slasher pornography, is what makes In The Miso Soup an unforgettable vade mecum of hidden darkness. For anyone interested in the psychology of a killer, this is a must read.
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (23 July 2005)
Summary: Psychological thriller with a pop culture twist.