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In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
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In the Miso Soup (original 1997; edition 2005)

by Ryu Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,2124810,587 (3.45)1 / 95
It's just before New Year, and Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's nightlife. But Frank's behaviour is so odd that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion- his client may in fact have murderous desires. Although Kenji is far from innocent himself, he unwillingly descends with Frank into an inferno of evil, from which only his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Jun, can possibly save him.… (more)
Member:yomisugi
Title:In the Miso Soup
Authors:Ryu Murakami
Other authors:Ralph McCarthy (Translator)
Info:Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2005), Hardcover, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Japan, Japanese, Translation

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In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami (1997)

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English (39)  French (4)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
I like weird books. And apparently when it comes to Japanese fiction, I like violent books. (I'm not really sure why I keep reading Japanese fiction where people are killed. Maybe that's just a lot of the Japanese fiction that gets translated into English?)Basically people who love horror movies are people with boring lives. They want to be stimulated, and they need to reassure themselves, because when a really scary movie is over, you’re reassured to see that you’re still alive and the world still exists as it did before.Earlier this year, I read Popular Hits of the Showa Era and it was weird and oddly entrancing, so I decided to read something else by Murakami. I picked this book.

I'm not really sure if I can explain this book. Basically, a Japanese tour guide is hired to show an American around the seedy side of Tokyo's nightlife. The American ends up being a serial killer. “He’s checking out a Print Club booth.”
“A what?”
“You know, that machine that takes photos of you and then prints them out on cute little stickers. I don’t think he knows how it works. He’s watching a group of girls posing for a picture.”
“I think you’re probably all right, then, Kenji. I can’t imagine a murderer making Print Club photos of himself.”
I’m not sure why, but that seemed to make sense.It's a horrifically violent book. Do not read while eating. Most of it isn't gory, but there is one (long) scene that... You know, I have a strong stomach but I'm glad I didn't hit that part while I was eating lunch. For some reason, it was particularly gruesome. Frank sighed as though bored and cut off his other ear as well. It fell to the floor soundlessly, like a slice of fishcake or something, and lay there among the loose strands of hair and cigarette ashes.And that doesn't even get into the really icky parts. (Let's not discuss a man's face begin set on fire.) One disadvantage of particularly evocative writing style, I suppose?

But even before the real violence sets in, it's just such a weird book. There's something about the writing style I supposed - it really sucked me in even though I'm pretty sure I had a shocked-to-horrified expression on my face while reading 90% of this book.

On a larger scale, it touches on the issues of loneliness, the disconnect of younger generations (compared to post-WW2 folks; this isn't a teenagers-are-the-bane-of-our-society type book), cultural differences, who's to blame for society's issues... It's not exactly the most flattering towards Americans, but then it isn't exactly a glowing review of the Japanese either. Murakami is critical of everyone, apparently.
What’s good about Americans, if I can generalize a little, is that they have a kind of openhearted innocence. And what’s not so good is that they can’t imagine any world outside the States, or any value system different from their own. The Japanese have a similar defect, but Americans are even worse about trying to force others to do whatever they themselves believe to be right.So yeah, this all probably really says nothing concrete about this book, but it's just weird. Did I like it? Yes, in a horrifying sort of way. The underlying issues were really interesting to think on and the actual plot was engaging in a rubbernecking-at-a-horrible-car-accident kind of way. I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone because if someone actually read it, they might think I had massive mental problems, but yeah, really fascinating read. I'm definitely going to have to read more Ryu Murakami books. Once I recover from this one. ( )
  Aug3Zimm | Nov 12, 2019 |
Murakami sets the tone of the novel when Kenji casually reads in the morning paper about pieces of a middle class high school girl, known to dabble in prostitution, discovered in several garbage cans. He finishes breakfast. A barbaric crime has occurred and it merely sells papers and provides fodder for the talking heads on the news. We're not so different after all.

Kenji has no future prospects other than a vague desire to go to America someday and is content to work as an unlicensed guide. Kenji lives on the fringes of the sex industry, showing American tourists where and how to gawk and get-off. Having put in a few years into his business there isn't much that phases him, but his latest customer, Frank, gets under his skin. Could Frank be connected with the murder, and what does he have in mind for his tour?

If I must disregard the flavor text of Pokémon cards, 'In the Miso Soup' is my first taste of Japanese literature. A night-club serial killer is the least that I would have expected. Its a common trope in our small web-bound world that Japan doesn't understand us (Americans*) and we think it is fucking weird. Like any translation, I'm not sure how much of the style survived translation, but the flat, noir tone suited the tired night-life atmosphere of the novel. It did not help me engage with Kenji at all. I didn't get too much of a feel for Japan either, perhaps its a symptom of a standardizing world, despite the efforts Murakami makes to contrast Japanese and Western culture I didn't gain much insight.

'In the Miso Soup' immerses the reader in a grey world where traditional morality has already taken a backseat to baser concerns, and soon abandons it entirely. It is gruesome, but so detached I couldn't associate with the violence. I'm feeling out a connection with Bret Easton Ellis' 'Glamorama' where a culturally deadened protagonist is forced into some thought by the horrors surrounding him, but I liked that book better. I could (and still can) see purpose and ambition behind that novel while 'In the Miso Soup' seems more like the source material behind the cheaper bent of slasher movies such as 'Saw'. Lots of violence and a slim coat of "I kill so that they feel alive" varnish. If that's your thing, have at it, but this is all I'll need.

(*Sorry for my assumption) ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Kenji is a "nightlife guide" for English-speaking tourists in Japan. Basically, he takes guys on tours of what the Japanese sex industry has to offer. Although Kenji gets quite a few customers via his little ad in Tokyo Pink Guide (a magazine about the sex industry in Tokyo), the work isn't as good as he expected it to be. He can never seem to save up enough for that trip to America he wants.

Kenji has seen a lot of foreigners, but his latest client, Frank, is different. On the surface, he's a loud and friendly New Yorker who wants to go everywhere and have some sex along the way. There are moments, however, when something dark and ugly peers out of Frank's eyes. Frank hired him for three nights, right up until New Year's Eve, and by the end of their first night together, Kenji becomes convinced that Frank is the serial killer who's been raping girls involved in compensated dating, killing them, and dismembering their bodies (not necessarily in this order).

This book could be divided into three parts. In the first part, Kenji is a guide and translator working with a strange and vaguely disturbing client. This section has a large amount of detail about how the various places Kenji and Frank visit work and takes place mostly during their first night together. I recall them going to a peep show, a lingerie bar (sounded a bit like a hostess club, only with the women dressed in nothing but lingerie), and some kind of club where they ended up going on a paid date that Frank had hoped would end with sex. They also spent some time at a batting cage, of all things. Considering what just the time with Kenji cost, it was a little surprising that Frank wanted to spend it just watching Kenji try to hit some baseballs. But Frank was weird, even at the very beginning.

The first part is surprisingly tame. No sex, on-page or otherwise. The closest Frank gets to having sex is a handjob at the peep show, which isn't on-page. Kenji asks the woman who did it for a few details, hoping for something that might tell him, one way or the other, whether Frank was the murderer. Some aspects of this part of the book could almost be viewed as darkly comedic. Even as Kenji worries that Frank might be a murderer, there are moments when Frank seems clownish and ridiculous.

In the second part, which occurs a little over halfway through, the violence and gore is cranked WAY up. It's basically just one scene, but it is not for the faint of heart. I didn't expect this level of nastiness and ended up skimming it for my own peace of mind. Even then, way more of this scene is burned into my brain than I'd like. There is on-page torture, as well as a character who is almost forced into necrophilia.

The third part returns to the pacing and overall content of the first part. Kenji continues to act as Frank's guide, although Frank is no longer interested in finding someone to have sex with. However, whereas the first part was filled with Kenji's suspicions, more a fear of what his gut told him Frank might be capable of that anything, in the second part Kenji is so far past fear that he's numb.

The last part also had a sharp increase in Frank's level of self-reflection, philosophizing, and societal analysis. Kenji, too, found himself thinking about what it is to be Japanese. And, to be honest, I really didn't care what sorts of insights Frank had or inspired in Kenji. I don't know if his explanation of his childhood was supposed to awaken in readers some sort of empathy or understanding for him, but I, personally, just kept coming back to the utter horror of what happened at the book's midway point. Several of those people were annoying, or liars, or scammers, but none of them deserved what happened to them, and Frank made it pretty clear that he planned to continue on as he had been, after he and Kenji parted ways.

I didn't like this book. I suppose it was intense and focused look at the emotional impact of three nights with a guy like Frank, but I don't know that that time was worthwhile.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Nov 3, 2018 |
So... a Japanese tour guide who believes the American he's showing around is a serial killer. It's very short, and it is interesting how the author works into the narrative the tour guide's thoughts on modern Japan, the United States and the alienation of people in both. Still, I kinda found it incredibly boring. The book just faded out miserably, like it was left on a desk for too long and the author was like, oh shit, maybe I have to finish this... I'm not really thinking of anything... oh well, I'll toss something off that's five pages. Something a little spooky so it seems like I did it that way on purpose!

I gotta find a book I like soon ( )
1 vote Joanna.Oyzon | Apr 17, 2018 |
This. Was. Good. ( )
  Denicbt | Feb 5, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ryū Murakamiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Shimizu, YukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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