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Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryū Murakami

Author Theme Reads

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1kidzdoc
Jul 21, 2012, 11:29am Top

This is an absurd comic novel and cultural satire set just after the completion of the Showa Era, which refers to the reign of Emperor Hirohito from 1926-1989. The first set of main characters are six young men, who are each nihilistic misfits that have been largely abandoned by their families and the larger society, but find common ground in each other and a shared interest in mindless violence and an elaborate and somewhat disturbing karaoke ritual. If you can visualize a group of Beavis & Butthead clones on steroids, you've got them pegged. They have little emotional connection to anyone, and they harbor an inexplicably deep hatred of Oba-sans, or aunties, the seemingly ubiquitous dowdy women past their prime period of attractiveness. As one of them says, "They always say that when human beings are extinct, the only living thing left will be the cockroach, but that's bullshit. It's the Oba-san."

One of the young men, filled with unfocused rage and vengeance, approaches an Oba-san who is unknown to him, and murders her in broad daylight. The woman is one of the members of the Midori Society, consisting of six thirtysomething women who all share the same last name and the same fate as unmarried, undesirable, purposeless and unfulfilled women who are equally as nihilistic and amoral as the young men. They learn who the killer is and take their revenge on him, which sets off a war between the two factions that is a cross between a bizarrely funny Looney Tunes cartoon and a mindlessly and increasingly violent B movie.

Despite all of this, I actually enjoyed this novel, which I found to be a biting critique of the nihilism, crassness and commercialization of contemporary Japanese pop culture, one in which its admirers seek instant gratification and bear no concern for the consequences of their behaviors or actions.

2StevenTX
Aug 11, 2012, 4:50pm Top

My response to the novel is the same as Darryl's. It was the funniest book I have read in a long time.

One additional observation is that the conflict between them, ironically, brings out the best in both the karaoke boys and the oba-sans. The prospect of committing violence makes them "better" people--more productive, more focused, more confident, and sexier--just as war sometimes brings out what is best in individuals or nations--a rather disturbing realization.

3cameling
Sep 1, 2012, 8:24pm Top

I just read this and I found it terribly funny. Having read other Ryu Murakami books, I was expecting more darkness but although the violence escalates in this book, it wasn't so much an increasing sense of trepidation that one feels, but oddly, a gathering of the light.

Darryl, of course, writes an amazing review.

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