Ryu Murakami
Ralph McCarthy, Translator

Aoyama is no ordinary Tokyo rentman. He owns his own film production company, is prosperous, stable, a little cautious, worried. He has recently lost his wife and is now forty-two-years old. His fifteen-year-old son thinks he should find another woman, get married.

So Aoyama and his friend Yoshikawa come up with a scheme. They will announce an upcoming film production. Women will be invited to submit photographs and biographical notes along with qualifications. The two men will look through the submissions and decide on a possible amore for Aoyama.

Over 2,000 women apply. A few dozen are selected for Aoyama to interview. But from the beginning, from her photograph, he knows that Yanasaki Asami is the one. When he finally meets her, "It was like being the millionth visitor to an amusement park, suddenly bathed in spotlights and a rain of balloons and surrounded with microphones and flashing cameras."

§     §     §

I recall a college course where we were going through "great" literature of all time. We read The Iliad and "Hamlet" and Tom Jones and Great Expectations and The Power and the Glory and Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man. We didn't get this last one ... wondered aloud why it was included in the course, complained loudly about it taking so long to get on track.

The teacher responded, in one of his rare social judgments (he was French; Mann of course was German): "Sometimes they take their time getting things moving. They can be very careful."

Thus Ryu Murakami might well be Mann's cousin or grandson (or great grandson). It seems to take forever to get Audition moving. But once it does, it becomes engrossing, then all-enveloping, and at the end, a non-stop earth-moving machine, grinding to its ghastly conclusion, taking us along with it, out of control, forcing us to race ahead as quickly as possible so we can find out who wins, who loses ... who will live, who will die.

At one point as I was hurrying to the conclusion I thought that I was not all that fond of being so owned by the author ... an author who has no mercy, will not let go of us nor his characters --- who will string the whole thing on as long as possible, dragging us to some bloody conclusion. For not only does Aoyama --- this sensible man --- fall ragingly in love with Asami, but others who have watched her tell us (the reader, Aoyamna) to be very careful.

Yoshikawa says there is something about her that is not right. Takamatsu, who works in Aoyama's office, says "It's never good to let romance blind you to the truth." Aoyama's aged geisha friend Kai says, "She's like smoke: you think you are seeing her clearly enough, but when you reach for her there's nothing there."

    This girl's different. She knows what's most important to her and she knows how to get it, but she doesn't let you know what it is.

Kai thinks that it's her beauty, a beauty "that made you wonder if it hadn't been nourished by all the misery and misfortune in the world."

§     §     §

The last three chapters do drive one; they certainly did me. One finds oneself anguished for this thing to end. I was dazzled by Murakami's style, and his brilliant shift in pacing: from the somewhat dry, plodding early chapters to the explosive final scenes. It may also plod at the end, but it does in a maddeningly pushy way, one that refuses to leave you alone, until you are finally done with Aoyama and Asami (thank god) and her mad desire to get him and get even.

--- Akira Atanabe
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