Ryu Murakami is not Haruki Murakami. Not even close. Their books are filed together in bookshops, but that’s about as close as they’ll ever be in any way whatsoever. Ryu Murakami’s bleak tales of destructive youth in dystopian Japan are unlike any other books I’ve ever read. I’ve read a lot of books. His writing style is literary and addictive. He’s a Japanese Irvine Welsh, though even that comparison might not help you understand his surreal and idiosyncratic books. The first Ryu Murakami book I read was Popular Hits Of The Showa Era, a novel about a gang war that occurs between a group of karaoke obsessed sex-mad young men and a group of divorced older women. I almost dropped the book in shock when I turned the last page. This, I thought, is what I’d always wanted to do in my books. But until that point I wrote only for the Young Adult audience (an adult novel is coming). My second novel Endless Empress (nearly titled High School Massacre: The Musical until my publisher had second thoughts) is just as violent and surreal. But nowhere near as focussed. God, I was so jealous of Ryu’s genius.
After Popular Hits, I read Ryu’s most famous novel Coin Locker Babies. I couldn’t get enough. More. More! I wanted more. 69 came next (!) and it served as a reminder of his talents. A contrast to his other work, 69 is about a group of college students in 60s Japan who want to put on a rock festival. It’s probably my favourite novel of Ryu.
Piercing, soon to be a movie, is good but after 69 it felt somewhat disappointing. In The Miso Soup, however, made up for it. Another of Ryu’s more popular novels, In The Miso Soup tells of a Japanese tour guide who takes an American tourist around the red light districts of Japan. Except…well…there’s a serial killer at work and maybe, just maybe, he’s the American tourist. I grabbed the next book from my pile. It was Audition. More famous as the inspiration for the movie of the same name, I tore through this book until the next one. From The Fatherland With Love is Ryu’s most ambitious novel to date, a book with a cast of dozens. I’m still reading it. I’m still loving it. But I’m frightened that I’ll have no more of his books after I turn that last page. You see, Ryu has a lot of novels out in Japan, but they haven’t all been translated into English. Pushkin Press made a great job of most of these books. I hope they do more. Please do more. Or Bloomsbury. Anyone!
Next time you go into a bookshop looking for Haruki Murakami, you should try the other Murakami. Dystopia has never been as riveting or as vital.