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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In the Miso Soup

Murakami Ryu

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To purchase In the Miso Soup

Title: In the Miso Soup
Author: Murakami Ryu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 180 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: In the Miso Soup - US
In the Miso Soup - UK
In the Miso Soup - Canada
In the Miso Soup - India
Miso Soup - France
In der Misosuppe - Deutschland
Tokyo soup - Italia
  • Japanese title: イン ザ・ミソスープ
  • Translated by Ralph McCarthy

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Our Assessment:

B- : some good ideas behind it, but the plot simply too unconvincing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 23/1/2004 Daniel Fierman
L'Express . 12/5/1999 Michel Grisolia
The Guardian . 12/3/2005 Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Independent on Sunday . 24/4/2005 Jonathan Gibbs
LA Weekly . 19/2/2004 Sandi Tan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung F 3/2/2007 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/1/2004 Curtis Sittenfeld
San Francisco Chronicle . 14/3/2004 Wesley Yang
Sunday Telegraph . 20/3/2005 James Francken
TLS . 13/2/2004 Daniel Lukes
USA Today . 25/2/2004 Christopher Theokas
The Village Voice . 10/2/2004 Mary Jacobi
The Washington Post . 4/4/2004 Elizabeth Gold

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "His latest oozes darkness and ambiguity and reads like a cross-Pacific bullet train." - Daniel Fierman, Entertainment Weekly

  • "(C)'est un chaud et froid d'horreur et de compassion, électrisant comme la jungle de néon qui lui sert de cadre nocturne." - Michel Grisolia, L'Express

  • "In the Miso Soup reads like script notes for American Psycho - the Holiday Abroad. And yet the darkness at the heart of In the Miso Soup stays with the reader long after the book is finished and Murakami makes his readers as complicit as Kenji in their desire to understand why Frank is the way he is." - Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Guardian

  • "There is plenty of serious social comment to go with the slicing and dicing. This compelling, slippery novel -- as slippery as the monster at its heart -- slides unnervingly through the registers, from thriller to sociological tract to, finally, something akin to a spiritual meditation." - Jonathan Gibbs, Independent on Sunday

  • "In the Miso Soup is quality pulp made out of Japan’s crushed, dark heart: Our pride, it suggests, is matched only by our self-hatred. We’re desperately lost ... but so are you. (...) In the Miso Soup often reads like a collaboration between Stephen King and Michel Houellebecq, with off-key karaoke going on in the background. He gives you shocking blood-violence, but the social critique is never far behind." - Sandi Tan, LA Weekly

  • "Doch hilft auch das Schockprinzip nicht weiter. Die Ästhetik des Hässlichen und Grausamen, auf die Ryu Murakami kalkuliert, sie ist keine Ästhetik mehr. Man erspare sich diese Lektüre." - Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(I)t is a testament to the strengths of Ryu Murakami's novel that it is ultimately defined not by its explicit depictions of violence and sex but instead by its misfit characters." - Curtis Sittenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This would be an absorbing enough bit of page-turning horror-porn (and the book is indeed tightly plotted and elegantly written, full of interesting observations of Japanese society) in the post-Tarantino mold for those with an appetite for that kind of thing, if Murakami left it at this. But Murakami is not satisfied to be a purveyor of sleazy sensationalism and insists on posing as the writer of "relevance" that some of his admirers have made him out to be." - Wesley Yang, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Atmosphere predominates, and the claustrophobia of the backstreets of Tokyo and the mad glee of Frank's hunt for the right prostitute are intensely imagined. But the excitement of the chase wears thin." - James Francken, Sunday Telegraph

  • "By the end of the novel, it is hard to know if Kenji's tenuously held certainties have been annihilated by his trial by fire; his detachment and confusion hardly make him a model of hope for today's generation of young men." - Daniel Lukes, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Beyond one terribly shocking scene, Miso is a thoughtful novel about loneliness, lack of identity and cultural and moral corruption. Through simple yet chilling language, Murakami doesn't condemn his characters. Instead he takes aim at rampant consumerism and the dumbing-down of Japanese and American culture." - Christopher Theokas, USA Today

  • "Ironically, the obligatory gore scene -- cartoony and cold like something out of Quentin Tarantino -- is less disturbing than Ryu Murakami's meditations on urban loneliness and disconnection, Japanese- and American-style." - Elizabeth Gold, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In the Miso Soup is narrated by twenty-year-old Kenji who hires himself out as a "nightlife guide" for foreign tourists in Tokyo, helping them navigate this world of odd and expensive customs and possibilities. In the last days of 1996 he hooks up with Frank, an American looking to have a good time (or so he claims), and the novel relates their expeditions together as the new year approaches.
       Kenji meets all sorts in his line of work, but he finds Frank troubling almost from the beginning. Nothing Frank says about himself is convincing, and he even seems to lie about irrelevant things. But the money is good -- and then, before he knows it, Kenji finds Frank has more of a hold over him than he's comfortable with.
       Kenji first hears from Frank when the American calls him, inquiring about his availability; Kenji happens to be reading about a schoolgirl who had been murdered and dismembered when the call comes. Their first night out they pass by the place where she was killed -- and Kenji notices that Frank pays with what looks like a bloodstained ¥ 10,000 note at the first place they go to. These coincidences -- and Frank's general demeanour and behaviour -- make Kenji ever more suspicious.
       There is no plausible reason to suspect Frank of any connexion to this (and other) crimes, but it becomes an idée fixe. As Kenji tells his sixteen-year-old girlfriend:

       "I mean, I don't have any actual evidence that he did it. The real mystery to me is why I can't shake the feeling that maybe he did."
       This is also one of the big mysteries for the reader, as this implausible plot-twist is completely unnecessary and serves more to annoy than create much of an atmosphere of foreboding (which is presumably what Murakami was trying to do).
       The descriptions of Kenji and Frank's nights out -- which take up most of the novel -- do have their moments. The different sorts of nightclubs, the men (and, especially, the women) who frequent them, the services on offer are all described, and the seemingly jolly, naïve gaijin (foreigner) Frank is shown to be a quite spectacular fish out of water. Repeatedly, however, Kenji focusses his attention (and disappointment) on Japanese society, many of its failures reflected in these semi-seedy doings. (Frank is something of a foil, but ultimately far too cartoonish to be of much use as a representative of American society -- except, perhaps, in its ultimate, apocalyptic manifestation (which may very well be how the Japanese would like to read this).)
       The outings aren't very pleasant. Frank claims to be after sex, but there's clearly something else going on here. The scenes in the club they go to where the true Frank finally reveals himself are largely convincingly (if painfully) awkward, people brought together out of desperation, lying to each other and themselves, a protracted scene of miscommunication and unwillingness to admit to personal weakness or failure, everyone there a lost soul.
       Fairly early on Kenji recognises that Frank isn't quite like everybody else:
I didn't know if he was a murderer, but I knew he had a bottomless void inside him. And that void was what made him lie. I've been there. Compared to where Frank was at, it may have been like a Hello Kitty version, but I've been there.
       Things get very ugly and gory and brutal. Unfortunately, they also strain credulity: too many things that happen (and a few that don't happen) are simply too unbelievable, and that undermines the entire book (nearly fatally). Murakami plays with some good ideas here, but the actions that go with the thoughts are cartoonishly exaggerated, from the true Frank to Kenji's reactions.
       Unevenly paced, unconvincingly plotted, and extremely gory, In the Miso Soup is far from satisfying. It does offer an interesting, bleak glimpse of contemporary Japanese society, but it's unfortunate that Murakami uses the simply unbelievable Frank-figure (and Kenji's unlikely suspicions) to make many of his points.
       In the Miso Soup is an ambitious novel, but unfortunately Murakami seems to believe that such grand ambitions require everything in the book (especially the violence) to be on a similarly grand scale; it is a terrible miscalculation.

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In the Miso Soup: Reviews: Other books by Murakami Ryu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Murakami Ryu (村上 龍) is a leading Japanese author.

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