Sunday, June 17, 2007

Midnight movie

After Dark, by Haruki Murakami (Harvill Secker, 2007)

You know, sometimes I think it's almost pointless to write about Haruki Murakami. You either get him or you don't, but it's just as laudable not to get him. From the blogroll, I know that Dr Hocking has tried to love him, but remains unconvinced; Scott Pack is pretty much a Haruki groupie. Amylola is even planning to teach his stuff next semester, which I suspect is just asking for trouble. Me? Well, I did borrow the title of this blog from one of his books. (I understand that Thom Yorke's a fanboy as well, but he doesn't return my calls.)

You see, Murakami bypasses normal critical criteria. For a start, there's the problem with any translated text. How can you address a writer's style when what you're really looking at is the craft of some intermediary (in this case, Jay Rubin)? Instead, everything's about the world he creates. Murakami (or his stooge) offers an engaging mix of deadpan humour, meandering description that seems to follow an almost musical logic (he's a big jazz fan) and occasional flashes of tender sadness and/or excruciating violence. He writes about loners, but loners who are at worst disgruntled, rather than tortured souls. He also seems to have a thing for pretty, damaged girls who won't go all the way, but don't mind giving you a hand.

However, there's no manual relief this time round. Indeed, After Dark seems to offer a few new departures for Murakami. It's written in the present tense; there's no one main protagonist; the action all takes place within the space of a few hours. It's by far the most filmable of his books, controlled cuts between scenes replacing the improvisational detours of his longer works. There are references to Godard, specifically Alphaville, and much of J-LG's loping cool is present, but I also thought of Wenders's Wings of Desire. We join Murakami in his role as observer of the city, and we can almost feel his feathers brush against our face, but we're not asked to join in.

But alongside these new departures, he offers up some of the familiar riffs, like a musician who wants to plug his new album, but knows the punters have come for the familiar lollipops. There's Takahashi, a gawky young man, a lover of jazz and toast, who makes a hamfisted attempt at wooing Mari, a self-contained young woman bearing a mysterious sadness. His name suggests an earlier story of trombones and outsiders, 'Tony Takitani', in last year's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and also, interestingly, the first of Murakami's works to be filmed. But would Murakami ever be that obvious?

Then there are odd interludes somewhere on the border between dream sequence and magic realism, with reader and subject (a beautiful girl in a deep, deep sleep) and a faceless attendant, moving from one side of a TV screen to another. There's violence (although nothing to match the horrific torture sequence in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle); there's lots of jazz in the background; there's the exquisite lostness of Tokyo after the last train has left.

And best of all, there's no user-friendly resolution. Loose ends remain defiantly loose. We know who perpetrates the violence, but not why; nor why the beautiful girl sleeps. Retribution is threatened, but we don't know if it's carried out. Takahashi promises to write to Mari, but we never find out if he does. A cellphone lies in the chiller cabinet of a 7-11. It rings a few times, to be answered by the wrong person. But nobody takes it out of the fridge.

If you like Murakami, you'll like After Dark. If you don't, you won't. If you don't know, you may never find out. But if you don't read a book, is it, like the cellphone, still there?

17 comments:

dh said...

So who do you reckon for director. Tarantino?

amylola said...

excellent discussion of the book. i just finished it, too. the only book i've read in weeks. i am, as you pointed out, quite enamored with murakami. this one was quite a bit different - and yet also the same. you summed up the end magnificently - we don't konw what happens really to anyone. we just know they went through a strange nighttime together (or apart) and the sun has come up and now it's a new day.

p.s. the books you suggested on my blog? terrific. think i will be using the noodle maker, along with the short stories by the Thai writer. and still use wind-up bird chronicle!

amylola said...

konw is a common alternative spelling of know. at least, it is in my student's papers?!

Jun Okumura said...

but much rarer than that most common of alternate spellings: teh.

Tim Footman said...

Jim Jarmusch, I reckon, dh.

And I'm particularly prone to "remebmer".

Murph said...

I just so hate those cold callers.

AndrewK said...

I do like the two Murakami books I've read quite a lot, ie Wind Up B & Kafka on the Shore. My writer who expresses my feeling for life most of all is Victor Pelevin however, whose Insects I re-read lately- amazing. Murakami more of a natural novelist certainly, but Pelevin's thought revealings extraordinary as well as being one of the greatest humourists I've ever read.

Tim Footman said...

Nice one, Murph, but remember, puns don't always translate into Japanese.

AndrewK, are you the anonymous Andrew who commented on my Pelevin post. I like the cigar-chomping Russkie, but I suspect that beneath his veneer of insouciance beats a heart of granite - my man Haruki is more flesh and blood, however hard he tries to hide it.

amylola said...

Jun Okumura said...
but much rarer than that most common of alternate spellings: teh.

so common i am afraid it will show up in a dictionary in the not-to-distant future.

and my vote goes to Charlie Kaufman, or maybe .... get really strange .... and go with Gus Van Sant.

AndrewK said...

I am that same Andrew, Tim. Murakami, I'd agree more of a human, Pelevin more of a being of the mind. Though if you read the story, The Adventures of Shed XII from his collection, The Blue Lantern, I think a warm beating heart can be seen.

AndrewK said...

I'd suggest Murakami & David Lynch might go quite well together...thinking perhaps a little of the restrained Lynch of Straight Story toghether with the stranger stuff.

violetforthemoment said...

New Murakamis always seem to be in time for my birthday. Saves my mother getting an imagination, but it does mean I can't rush out and buy it myself when it comes out. Murakami's usual protagonists are like me when I'm in the house on my own, obsessing about how I'm cooking the pasta and generally pottering about placidly putting records on and thinking about nothing much. I am nothing like any of his women though. I'm not even fucked up in a very interesting way.

I agree with Lynch for a Murakami director. His Hard Boiled Wonderlan... would be utterly insane.

K.W.Wan said...

I love Murakami too.

I gave up explaining reasons for loving something a long time ago. I tell them to read the book and if they say they didn't like it, then I make a mental note never to talk to them again.

Tim Footman said...

It's funny, but whenever I post anything about a particular book or author, I think I'm going to be met with a resounding silence. Not because the people who hang around here don't read, but because reading habits and tastes seem to be far more fragmented that those for other media (despite the fact that literature is where the idea of a canon started).

But Murakami seems to hit the spot. Is there something about him that appeals to the romantic cynics that populate my blogroll?

As to film, Lynch could well get the gig. Kaufman's clever, but too brash, too full of ideas, I think. Sofia Coppola could do the regret bit... I thought of Jarmusch because I see HM's heroes being pitched somewhere between Johnny Depp (in Dead Man) and Bill Murray (in Broken Flowers). And I want the Japanese rockabillies from Mystery Train to come into Steve Buscemi's cafe from Coffee and Cigarettes...

First Nations said...

tim, you make me want to READ THINGS.
this means i will have to quit the supermarket bestsellers and slip into winter mode.
it's all your fault.

patroclus said...

All this reminds me that I have a) never read any Murakami and b) have a pristine copy of Dance Dance Dance sitting on my desk in London, although that's pointless, because I'm in Falmouth with a craving for reading Sherlock Holmes short stories, which is not the same thing at all.

Re. >>reading habits and tastes seem to be far more fragmented that those for other media<<, I am finding that people's musical tastes have fragmented wildly since the likes of last.fm, Fopp and the Hype Machine made the likes of Radio 1, HMV and the Top 40 mostly irrelevant, and that makes me very happy.

Tim Footman said...

Sorry FN. Will restrict my posts to being laughed at by disableds.

People's musical tastes have fragmented since I were a nipper, but within the (admittedly narrow) boundaries of people who read my blog, I reckon that if I make a passing response to the latest work by Arcade Fire or Joanna Newsome (or the current series of Dr Who, or a film like 28 Weeks Later), a decent proportion will at least know what I'm talking about. I don't know whether there are many recent authors to whom that applies.