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review 2017-03-03 23:13
Audition by Ryū Murakami; Translated by Ralph McCarthy
Audition - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

I am not having good luck with Japanese literature this year. 


Let me back track. At the beginning of this year, I said that I was going to read more of Japanese literature. I love Japan, Its culture, language, history, and literature have fascinated me since I was five-years-old. But even though I've studied the culture, language, and history, I've fallen behind on its literature. So I wanted to rectify that this year. I want to read through all of Haruki Murakami's works, some classics, and even modern novels that come from Japan. If you recall, at the beginning of January, I picked up Haruki Murakami's first novel and was completely underwhelmed by it. Now with Audition by Ryu Murakami, my second Japanese literature book for this year, I am left disgusted and annoyed that, so far, my reading project has been a bit of a let down.


Warning: The review below goes into a bit of graphic detail in order to accurately portray my disgust so be careful if you choose to continue onward. 


The writing itself it not bad. I read an English edition so I can't comment on Murakami's own writing. But Ralph McCarthy did an excellent job in translating the novel. It never felt like he was trying to make it into a flowery writing style. It's raw and to the point. I was never confused as to what was going on within the story because of how fluid the writing is. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.


Everything else I did not like. Throughout most of the book you have the main character, Aoyama, being a complete sexist asshole. He and his friend, Yoshikawa, talked horribly about women. That they're not good for much except sex. That if a woman wants to be an actress, she will mostly likely end up sleeping her way to the top. Ugh. They even talked about wanting to sleep with a lot of women but won't have it if a woman decided to have sex with more than one man. It's a double-standard that's been passed along in our misogynistic society forever now and it really pisses me off. The main character even goes as far to say that any man who doesn't want to be surrounded by a whole bunch of women is either a homosexual or mentally ill. I don't need to tell you how harmful and backwards thinking that statement is.


But, wait, it gets worse!


Yoshikawa, best friend of Aoyama, is just as horrendous as Aoyama is! Yoshikawa says that no woman would want to date anyone who uses the internet because only "geeks" use it, and that people who have jobs at radio stations are all idiots and would do anything to get their name out there. As if DJs and radio hosts are empty-minded individuals for working on the radio instead of TV. And that jab about people using the internet? Yeah, how's that going for ya, Yoshikawa? I'm aware that this book was written in the 90s but even then saying something like THAT about anyone who uses the internet is downright offensive.


And I wish the problems would just end there but there's still more I need to talk about. Like how Murakami decided to describe the sex scenes in his book. Not that I mind have descriptions of sex in the books I read. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is how Murakami chose to describe it. The descriptions were solely focused on Asami's, the main female character, body. He described the "folds" and the "white liquid" without ever touching upon Aoyama whatsoever. After all, he was there... you know. Just writing those scenes the way Murakami did diminished the act all together. It resulted in only objectifying Asami into a sex doll. Not that it's that surprising seeing as how all the other women in the book are written to be shallow, money-hungry, "sluts" who only are looking out for themselves.


One more thing I want to add before wrapping up this review and it's the one of the biggest reasons why I HATE this book. At the beginning of the book, Aoyama mentions to Asami that he's surprised she is so normal and demure because usually people who suffer from abuse as a child end up with trauma that leave them mentally unstable. And then that statement is solidify by Asami later on trying to kill him. Because ALL rape/abuse victims are crazy and want to kill all the people they have a relationship with, right? Ugh... These types of comments that forces abuse victims into one group is harmful. It sends the wrong message out to people. With how bad the stigma is around mental illness and rape victims, just saying that anyone who is abused as a child will grow up to be mass murderers is wrong! We don't need anymore of that type of representation in books or in any form of media. Rape victims do suffer trauma, yes, but they do not decide to become killers later on in like to "get back" at their rapists. And I won't sit here, claiming to know everything a rape victim goes through. However, I will also not sit here and let this toxic perception of victims go unchallenged either. They've always been through enough. We don't need to add on to their grief by labeling them as "psychopaths" as well.


Also, making said abuse victim dismember animals in a book just to add more "shock" value does not make the book better. Just makes the writer seem desperate and unimaginative in the story. There was no point in dismembering the dog. It did not go with the narrative Murakami was trying to "sell." He said that Asami wanted to "saw off the feet" of the men she was with to resemble her abuser and to "get back" at the men who wronged her. So why go after the dog? It did not fit her "criteria." Clearly, Murakami only added that part in to "disturb" the reader. There was no point to it and it was sloppy.


I know I gave away some points to the story but I felt like I had to so I could properly discuss why I hate this book. It's sloppy, misogynistic, harmful, and disgusting. I do not recommend you read this book. I won't say DON'T read it. I am of the belief people can read whatever they want. However, if anything I said disturbs you in any way, then you might want to steer clear. It's a shame that Ryu Murakami wrote a story in this manner. He is clearly not a writer for me and I will not be picking up anymore of his books.

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review 2016-01-05 17:11
One of my favourite books
Audition - Ryū Murakami,Ralph McCarthy

I had seen the film before I read the book.
Both are as good as each other, although I think maybe some people might be disappointed if they watch the film first then read the book and vice versa. However for me, since I have a very vivid imagination, I could picture the film in my head while I was reading this book.

The film/book each have a slow pace, that builds the tension.

This leads to one of the most memorable scenes in a book/film. (In my opinion, the part of the book/film at the hotel on-wards is the best part)

I love this book, and I really enjoyed reading it, for a full day, because at the time, I was really ill, so this helped a lot.
If you like Japanese cinema/culture or just Japanese or Korean Literature in general then I think you will enjoy reading this book, and watching the film. Although the pace sometimes, might be a little slow, for some people.

Personally I am a huge fan of foreign literature, especially if it is set in Japan, Russian, Germany and it involves a crime, or it is a horror story. I also really like the dark humor in these types of books, when the main character is considering doing something out of character, and thinks of it in a funny way.

I recommend this book, to fans of Japanese culture or foreign literature. I just ordered another book by this author, and I can't wait to read more of his work.

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text 2015-12-03 17:16
Dismal November Wrap-up
In the Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami
Dumplin' - Julie Murphy
On the Lips of Children - Mark Matthews

Three books completed and I only truly enjoyed one of them. That is all. I am ashamed.


On the Lips of Children by Mark Matthews 4 Stars


Dumplin' by Julie Murphy 2 1/2 Stars


In the Miso Soup 2 1/2 Stars

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review 2015-11-25 19:41
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
In the Miso Soup - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

Kenji is a young guy who makes his money by giving visitors of a certain umm, ilk, shall we say, tours of Tokyo’s sex industry. His latest client is a chubby American named Frank. Frank wants to see all the sights and have all the sex, all of which is nothing unusual, but Kenji quickly realizes there is something a bit “off” about dead-eyed Frank. And it’s probably not a coincidence that dead bodies start turning up as soon as Frank comes to visit . . .


Night one is slightly strange but when Kenji finds what he thinks is a piece of flesh (arggg!) on his property, he knows it came from that weirdo Frank. But he’s promised him three evenings and, hell, a buck is a buck, right?


Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? I mean, how could you go wrong with seedy sex clubs and a serial killer on the loose? How could that story possibly bore even the most jaded of readers nearly to death? But for some reason things went wrong. The first half was deadly dull. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Frank, who claims to be missing a bit of his brain (lobotomy, perhaps?), stares into space for eternities and Kenji mostly muses to himself on the state of people in the sex trade industry and worries about being late to visit his girlfriend. They club hop and have a few tedious conversations and Kenji muses on the reasons why wealthy young girls decide to become “compensated dates”. Things get vaguely exciting when Kenji finds that itty bitty ominous patch of flesh but that’s the only intriguing thing that happened for pages on end. I also felt disconnected from the prose and the characters and, I cannot lie, I pretty much sleepwalked through many of the pages. When the action finally started, it woke me up with its shocking detail but then it all became an exercise in frustration because it sucked all of the potential thrill and mystery straight out of the story. I really think that chapter should’ve been nearer to the end of the book. Also none of the questions about character motivation I had while reading (and, oh boy, did I have many) were answered and that annoyed me more than words can say.


Basically I never felt any sense of dread or fear or anxiety or anything but a little bit of boredom for nearly the entire novel. I’m glad it was short because, meh, it was so disappointing. Most everyone likes this book except for me. I’m beginning to think I need to give up reading and pick up a new hobby.


If you’re interested in reading a book about the desperation and darkest corners of Tokyo I’d recommend reading Out by Natsuo Kirino instead of this one.

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text 2015-11-06 00:26
Dabbling in some Japanese Literature
Botchan (Master Darling) - Sōseki Natsume,Yasotaro Morri
Japanese Gothic Tales - Kyōka Izumi,Charles Shiro Inouye
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion - Yukio Mishima,Ivan Morris
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata,Edward G. Seidensticker,Yukio Mishima
Coin Locker Babies - Ryū Murakami,Stephen Snyder
Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto,Megan Backus
Mushishi, Volume 1 - Yuki Urushibara
I'll Give It My All...Tomorrow, Vol. 1 - Shunju Aono

In preparing for my trip to Japan, from which I returned more than a month ago, I began to read a few of the Japanese works of literature that I had been gathering at library book sales over the years. Of course, this type of "theme" reading is something that I'm all about. Basically, I'll put together a theme reading list for just about any activity or event in my life, so absorbing some of the works of prominent Japanese authors throughout the 20th and 21st century was a given! 


Reading these works before taking off, during my stay in Japan, and after my return was quite interesting, as my experiences influenced both my response to the culture and changed how I saw the books I was reading as well. Here, I've arranged them in order of publication. 

I opened up my reading this summer with Botchan by Natsume Soseki. Often called the Japanese equivalent of Huck Finn, as in a classic work of literature that most people encounter in high school, Botchan was still a pretty funny read, even across the cultural and time divide. 


Written in 1906, during the Meiji Period, a time of great change in Japanese society as the nation works to modernize and industrialize itself, Botchan exemplifies this uncertain but exciting time. Following an self-confident, some would say arrogant, young college graduate from Tokyo as he reluctantly starts his first job as a teacher in an out of the way, rural town, I actually found a lot to sympathize with in his situation. In a way, I could see some parallels between this "untrustworthy narrator" and the complaints about Millennials today. 


As the headstrong kid butts heads with his fellow teachers and their set ways of doing things, he feels he is being set up to fail. Not sure exactly what he wants, homesick for his cosmopolitan hometown, he does not adapt well to this new environment and soon begins plotting to get back at these insincere phonies to hilarious result. I particularly enjoyed the nicknames he gave all of his coworkers on the first day. 


I first read this collection of eerie Japanese stories by Kyoka Izumi some years ago, when I was looking for weird tales from different cultural backgrounds. I found it even more interesting as a companion on the trip as I learned more of the locations and history written about by Izumi. 


Japanese Gothic Tales contains four novellas, written during the Meiji and Taisho periods of Japanese history. Eschewing the modernism aimed for by other authors at the time, Izumi's work is nonetheless influenced by this period of great change in Japanese culture. The stories themselves are surreal and eerie, particularly my favorite, "The Holy Man of Mount Koya," which deals with spooky creatures and magic in the mountains.


One of the major themes of all four of the stories is the relationships between men and women, and tragedy that results, along with strong supernatural elements- also, a theme of the story being told second hand via a secondary narrator relating some experience to a nameless viewpoint character gave the tales a folkloric air; there is also much to ponder regarding Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, Japanese philosophies, and the transforming history of the period. 


First published in 1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion was a gripping and taut psychological novel featuring a fictionalized telling of the infamous 1950 arson of Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto by a mentally unstable young monk. 


Yukio Mishima, one of Japan's foremost modern writers and himself a psychologically complex figure, delved into the dark resentments and philosophies of the neurotic Mizoguchi. A Zen acolyte groomed to join the clergy who developed a pathological love and hatred for the beauty of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, bound in with his misogyny and self-hatred. Self described as ugly, and afflicted by stuttering, he finds his family's dream of him taking over the Temple taken from him, and responds by burning the temple to the ground, justifying it through his Zen beliefs. Not exactly a happy tale, it is nonetheless a riveting account of an unhealthy mind. It does contain much to think about regarding Zen Buddhist teachings as well. 

Published in 1961, this collection of stories by Yusanari Kawabata explore some dark and surreal territory. I think that one of the literary terms appropriate here may be "decadence." The title story, "House of the Sleeping Beauties," for instance, is a fairly disturbing tale of an aging man paying to sleep next to drugged, unconscious, naked women, and much of the story is the narrator describing the physical appearance of each of the women and how they remind him of people and places from his past. He also considers strangling them. 


"One Arm" also involved a surreal episode of a man paying for a woman's body, in this case her physical arm, which is painlessly detached and he takes away with him, later to swap with his own arm. The last tale, "Of Birds and Beasts," discusses the authors love of animals and how this love translates more into cruelty than kindness towards his favorite pets. Not really sure quite what to make of these ornate, complex stories.                      


Wow, what to say about this one, this tour de force of pitch black humor and deadpan surrealism, this fevered tour of Japan's deepest id. 

Kiku and Hashi, their lives haunted by their newborn hours spent stifling in adjacent train-station coin lockers, abandoned to die by their pitiless mothers attempted to navigate their way through a bizarre and labyrinthine world. Growing up as adopted brothers, most comfortable in the abandoned ruins of Japan’s former industry, they begin to plot revenge against the society that created their mothers. While stoic, pole-vaulting Kiku finds a soulmate in Anemone, a cynical, crocodile loving model who shares his hatred of Japanese society and a desire to destroy it all, the sensitive, neurotic Hashi becomes a male prostitute, a pop-star, and loses his mind. Both share a penchant for murder and rice omelets.


From Tokyo to up to the northern town of Hakodate, all the way down to the Ryukyuan Islands, the trio encounter a host of bizarre characters while struggling with their own inability to get over their maternal abandonment. There is much analysis that can be attempted about what aspects of Japanese culture Murakami was parodying and exploring in this bleak book. Of course, Coin Locker Babies finishes up with no real resolution, or even any real ending, though there is plenty of tension.


The two novellas by Banana Yoshimoto collected in this book, the titular "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," were both effecting, melancholy, hopeful, and beautiful descriptions of personal loss and everyday pleasures. Evoking both the mundane pleasures and the grief of lost loved ones, Yoshimoto's stories illustrate the complex feelings of life.


Also, particularly in "Moonlight Shadow," there is a magic realist theme that I really found interesting as well. Focusing on young people not sure where they are going and trying to cope with the loss of loved ones, I think a lot of people can really identify with them. It is also really interesting to see these common human feelings through the eyes of a different culture as well. Of course, owing to Yoshimoto's lush descriptions of food, I am definitely looking forward to going to some more restaurants in Tokyo.


Along with the more "serious" works I've looked at so far, I also thought it would be relevant to read a couple of manga titles before the trip, as well. The first volume of Yuki Urushibara's Mushishi was an eerie, understated fantasy read I quite enjoyed- it had a supernatural theme that echoed Japanese folklore and belief combined with an interesting naturalistic scientific background as well. 


Following the Western costumed "Mushi master" (mushishi) Gingko, as he travels a feudal Japanese countryside helping people deal with mushi- strange, and inexplicable phenomena that may or may not be life as we know it, but which predates plant and animal life by eons. Urushibara's lush, atmospheric art does a lot to cultivate the mysterious feelings explored in her writing. I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series goes.

Shunju Aono's dramedy series "I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow" has been very interesting to me. With it's unusual art style and mundane, slice of life storytelling, it is a realistic, heart felt, and funny glimpse into everyday life in modern Japan. A contrast to the escapist, larger than life style of most manga, Aono's work is low key, touching, and funny.


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Following the "exploits" of Shizuo Oguro, a bit of a sad sack who, in the throws of a midlife crisis, quits his soul-sucking job as a salary-man to follow his dream of becoming a manga artist. A man who often changes his identity, Oguro finds himself whiling away his days working on his cliched manga ideas, taking advantage of his father and daughter's generosity before being forced to take a job in fast food to make ends meet. As the series continues, we watch Oguro's pathos evolve, particularly through the lens of his friends and family.


It was very interesting seeing how these accounts of Japanese life were reflected in my own experiences in the country, and how my own responses and mental pictures of them also changed. Now, I have a frame of reference to look at them, and likewise, reading these works also prepared me for what to look for during my journeys. Of course, they we'rent perfect, either. I could only read English translations, which leaves a lot of the original feel of the language out, I feel. In Botchan, for instance, Soseki was fond of using witty puns, puns which would make no sense in English and, for the most part, were left out. Still, even through this imprecise method, reading these books allowed me, in a way, to continue my trip even after I returned home.


Sensoji Temple, Asakusa District, Tokyo


Now that my trip to Japan is already quickly fading into the fuzzy pleasantness of nostalgia, these books will allow me to keep my experiences close, at least until my next trip!


*Theme music for entry: "My Magic Glasses," Shonen Knife, Genki Shock, 2005

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