I don’t want to crap on about the author too much here, but let me begin with an opinion. Many see Murakami as either a genius, or a hack. I guess that not enough time has passed for history to equivocally regard his career as truly ‘great’, or simply ‘average’. Perhaps that is an argument which will only be truly settled many years after the fact, if his stories manage to reach some kind of ubiquitous cultural integration. I believe that Murakami is a hot ticket at the moment, not necessarily because he is a writing god, but because he is vaguely literary and the backlog of his work has only been competently translated to western audiences relatively recently. Does this mean he is bad? No, in my opinion he has merit, and I enjoy his novels. But he ain’t the Japanese Kafka many would like to depict him as.
Dance Dance Dance, first published in 1988, is not one of Murakami’s most famous novels (Those would be Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle), but it’s still pretty renowned, perhaps built up as the author has gained more prominence in western literary culture. Accordingly, I pretty much knew what I was getting into with this book and the experience gave me no real surprises. But it was enjoyable none the less, for reasons detailed below. I will add that this is apparently a sequel of sorts to an earlier work, which I have not read.
The novel deals with a kind of vague theme which I interpret to be non-action. It ebbs and flows in intensity throughout. The main character, who is not given a name – actually I had to google whether or not the MC was named, which might give you an idea of what this book was like – is on a kind of quest. The word quest might be a little strong, because it’s not something he does actively. He experiences some weird visions, which are linked to a former lover. Accordingly, he follows the path of said visions, and the result is a kind of semi-surrealist series of interactions, juxtaposed by mundane Japanese life. Ultimately, the MC understands that he needs to find something, but instead of actively searching he goes with the flow and takes everything, weird or otherwise, in his path. I can dig that, it makes for comfy reading. The theme is not particularly forced upon the reader either. Personally I found myself considering the purpose of the MC’s journey only occasionally and with varying intensity. This is a strength of the novel I believe. Ultimately the MC does conclude his quest, in an uncharacteristically tight ending on Murakami’s behalf. The reader has come with him on that trip, as passive observers in the same way that the MC is a passive contributor and the end result is appropriately thematically satisfying.
This non-action is represented by the motif of ‘dancing’. Dance with the music. Dance Dance Dance (note that there is no self-referencing breaking of the fourth-wall, which I feel is a rookie mistake given that the Beach Boys actually rate a mention a few times). The music is represented through happenings of characters. The dancing is the MC’s willingness to do things. This might seem strange, but it’s kind of just how the flow of the novel goes. Like, at one point the MC is invited to go spend a couple of weeks hanging out in Hawaii with a 14 year old girl. This probably seems a bit rapey. But anyway, he goes along with it and experiences some more revelations of both the mundane and the surreal. The point being that if he did not go along with that rapey scenario, the reader would likely have be treated to a paragraph detailing the MC sitting at home listening to classical music and eating boiled eggs (cough textbook Murakami cough). And the conclusion of the novel would never have been reached. Too many loose ends would not have been connected. Maybe it’s a kind of literary endorsement for FOMO. Anyway, there’s also some stuff about shadows and the layers of self (loss, conscious, sub-continuous, good vs evil, etc). I feel like these motifs were also explored in Wind up Bird Chronicle, but here they’re not as fleshed out and just generally the MC is not as conflicted. So I’m not going to discuss it in a lot of detail, simply because I did not experience these themes with any great intensity during my reading.
The next thing I want to discuss is actually the narrative of the novel. Murakami has provided us with another page turner in Dance Dance Dance. Now I’ve got this theory. All of the Murakami novels I’ve read have had suspiciously familiar plot-lines to adult visual novels, or just smutty eroge in general. Which definitely make for titillating reading, but cheapen the experience in my opinion. I count four detailed sexual encounters in Dance Dance Dance, and probably one that the MC could have activated if he chose to go down the Lolita-Con path. What I’m saying is that there is not much separating Dance Dance Dance from Gurizaia no Kajitsu. Which is silly, but true. The MC doesn’t really have a strong personality, so it’s easy to self insert. The female characters are depicted as cute, quirky, tomboyish or whatever your fetish may be, and they are more often not subdued by the MC’s penis. I think it detracts from the novel. Sex is fine, but if I were after stories about Japanese chicks getting plowed, I would literally just play eroge. Oh watch plot-heavy porn. Now apart from this, there are some moments from the novel which I enjoyed in terms of narrative. One of the minor personalities of the novel is a famous writer by the name of Hiraku Makimura, who is personally conceited and a noted hack. It’s a nice little piece of self-awareness which I appreciated. Especially when considering that Dance Dance Dance was written soon after the release of Norwegian Wood, and all the unappreciated praise that book allegedly received. Also, as previously mentioned, Dance Dance Dance seems to have a somewhat coherent conclusion, which is fitting given the MC’s journey is almost linear.
I’d say that Murakami has created a good book here. Not one that is mind-blowing. But certainly one that provides for a comfortable and affirming reading experience.