Sunday, August 26, 2012

In the Miso Soup

In the Miso Soup
by Ryu Murakami
English translation by Ralph McCarthy
Published in 1997
Published by Yomiuri Shimbunsha
ISBN: 4-7700-2957-8

Kenji works in Tokyo as a guide for foreign men who want to sample the city's sex industry. Two days before New Year's Eve, he is hired by Frank, an American who gives Kenji the creeps. Frank is a man whose countenance and behavior seem 'off' in a myriad of ways. He can't seem to talk about his background without contradicting himself, and every so often Kenji sees something in his face that could be suppressed psychotic rage. On the day Kenji meets Frank, the news reports that the mutilated body of a teenage girl who'd been into 'compensated dating' has been found. Kenji can't help but suspect his new client.

He has good reason to. Before long, Kenji is fearing for his life and trying to put on a friendly face to avoid becoming his client's next murder victim.

Ryu Murakami is definitely not to be confused with the unrelated Haruki Murakami. In the Miso Soup is a psychological thriller whose main target is Japanese society, a culture that Murakami criticizes for driving people to such loneliness that they willingly participate in the pseudo-sex industry.

This is the world of compensated dating, in which women go on dates with older men for money; these dates might end with sex but don't necessarily have to. This is a world where lonely businessmen will wait in cafes for the chance to chat with a teenage girl; sometimes the girl isn't so much in it for the money as for the social interaction, because she's as lonely as the businessman. From Frank's perspective, there's dignity in a woman who turns to actual prostitution to support her family, but for people addicted to the tragic farce that is the psuedo-sex industry, there is no dignity, whether they are male or female, worker or client.

From Frank's hideous, disturbed perspective, he is only doing the world a favor. Murakami's not saying in his book that Frank's actions are justified, and he's definitely not glorifying him or people like him. Frank's function from a literary perspective is to point out the hypocrisy of a society in which these institutions are some people's closest thing to real social interaction. He does so in an absolutely brutal manner, but it drives the message home.

No comments: