With Almost Transparent Blue (1976) Ryu Murakami emerged as a chronicler of Japan’s lost generation, the disaffected kids who grew up in the shadow of WW II with the singular burden of living in an increasingly wealthy country. (One of his more graphic novels served as the basis for director Takashi Miike’s recent squirmfest Audition.) In the Miso Soup, the author’s fourth novel to be translated into English, details the relationship between Kenji, a 20-year-old “nightlife guide,” and Frank, 35, an American tourist seeking access to Tokyo’s sex trade. For three days they drop money at peep shows and “lingerie pubs” in the Kabuki-cho red-light district, and find time for an improbable stop at a batting cage. Kenji guides his client through the raffish charms of the city’s sex center, with its neon, touts, and dingy interiors, but the enigmatic Frank seems to have more than sex on his mind, and exhibits worrying signs of violence and instability.
Murakami’s cynical depiction of Japanese prostitution departs from his more sympathetic Tokyo Decadence (1991), the coke-fueled s&m farce that he wrote and directed. Contrary to Michel Houellebecq, whose recent novel Platform proffers Thai prostitutes as a panacea to Western societal ills, Murakami exposes the myth behind the exoticism of sex tourism. Of post-coital depression, he writes: “There’s not much chance of going to a foreign country for two or three days and finding a woman you like.” These digressions take a backseat on Day 2, with an episode referred to as the “Great Omiai Pub Massacre” that reads as pure Miike mania. I prefer the author in social critic mode, but perhaps Frank’s lethal sashimi-knife skills will play well on the big screen one day.