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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Murakami Ryu

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To purchase Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era
Author: Murakami Ryu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Popular Hits of the Showa Era - US
Popular Hits of the Showa Era - UK
Popular Hits of the Showa Era - Canada
Popular Hits of the Showa Era - India
Chansons populaires de l'ère Showa - France
DVD: Karaoke Terror - US
  • Japanese title: 昭和歌謡大全集
  • Translated by Ralph McCarthy
  • 昭和歌謡大全集 was made into a film in 2003, directed by Shinohara Tetsuo; it was released as Karaoke Terror on DVD in the US

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Our Assessment:

B : odd, but often amusingly over-the-top

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 2/2/2011 Liz Raftery
The Japan Times . 1/5/2011 Steve Finbow
The NY Times . 8/2/2011 Nathaniel Rich
The New Yorker . 7/2/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Still, some aspects of the novel beg the question whether viewing it as a dissection of gender and age divisions, or an allegory about the consuming, destructive power of revenge, might be giving it too much credit. The writing features a few laugh-out-loud one-liners but too often comes across as simply juvenile. (...) Appreciation for Popular Hits of the Showa Era will hinge on an interpretation of it as either schlock or substance. This polarizing novel may find a rapt audience among a certain demographic, but the wider population may find the extreme violence and warped humor alienating." - Liz Raftery, Boston Globe

  • "For all its pantomimic violence, the novel has some sharp and funny things to say about Japanese society: the separation of generations, the ever-growing gap between genders, the ambitions of the young and the regrets of the old, the inability to form loving partnerships, the Americanization of youth, and the ease in which a moment of individual disrespect can metastasize alarmingly into societal destruction. Murakami works the slapstick and grotesque at the sentence level; metaphors are hyperarticulated, a simple simile is never enough, they almost collapse into their own absurdity and extremism" - Steve Finbow, The Japan Times

  • "Popular Hits of the Showa Era is not Mr. Murakami at his best ó the farce isnít always convincing, the characters too relentlessly cartoonish ó but itís a reminder that heís one of the few subversive writers we have." - Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times

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:

       The 'Showa era' refers to the reign of Japanese emperor Hirohito, which extended 1926 to 1989. Popular Hits of the Showa Era focuses on two specific demographic groups from the tail end of that era. One is a group of disaffected, socially inept young men who had: "all given up on committing positively to anything in life". The six get together Saturday nights for some drinking, eating, and karaoke; nevertheless: "one hesitates to even call the participants 'friends,' since they lacked any common goals or interests." Their social interaction remains at the most rudimentary level; typically, one had: "inadvertently joined a fascist youth organization when he was eighteen". The other group consists of women who are all divorcees in their late thirties, "all graduates of high school or junior college, all sturdy of frame and far from beautiful, all karaoke enthusiasts, and all strangers to Orgasmus"; but what really unifies them is nothing more than their shared names: they are all named Midori.
       The Midoris are all: "unmistakably of the fearsome tribe known as Oba-san", and Popular Hits of the Showa Era pits these two groups against each other, a dynamic Murakami sees inherent in the times (and then goes on to play to the hilt). He excuses the young men's disaffected disinterest by noting:

The blame lay with a certain ubiquitous spirit of the times, transmitted to them by their respective mothers. And perhaps it goes without saying that this "spirit of the times" was in fact an oppressive value system based primarily upon the absolute certainty that nothing in this world was ever going to change.
       Change does, however, come to their lives -- in a series of attacks and reprisals that escalate quickly out of all proportion (no, the guys can't get their hands on a thermonuclear device at the end, but they do manage to find a(n un)reasonable substitute ...). It begins when one of the six guys kills one of the Midoris -- "I instinctively understood that this Oba-san was the one I needed to take down" --, and while the police can't figure out who did it the 'Midori Society' quickly does. Revenge-killing leads to revenge-killing, and since even anti-tank artillery apparently isn't that hard to come by for a determined group of Oba-sans things quickly get really, really out of hand here.
       Yes, much of this is very cartoonish, but it's an intriguing approach to socio-political critique. From the Oba-sans holding: "a series of study groups to research guerilla and terrorist attacks" to the surviving young men who realize they can probably escape undetected because: "We've been ignored all our lives, so nobody knows who we are", Popular Hits of the Showa Era is a very broad-stroked yet still stinging indictment Japanese society just as its economic boom began to deflate. Murakami condemns the devastating staying-power and influence of the Oba-sans -- as one character complains: "They always say that when human beings are extinct, the only living thing left will be the cockroach, but that's bullshit. It's the Oba-san" -- and, indeed, obliteration of the Midoris requires going to rather great extremes.
       The young men are failures, but Murakami repeatedly emphasizes society's role in shaping them into these failures -- and specifically the role of the shrewish Oba-sans that society has also created. Even the police investigating some of the murders:
formed an unspoken consensus that murdering such unsalvageable youths was probably a service to the nation anyway
       While not portraying the youths as sympathetic, Murakami nevertheless makes it clear that a society that breeds such youths -- and then is willing to toss them away so indifferently -- has little future, and that an Oba-san-led future holds even less promise.
       The underlying karaoke-theme is presumably largely lost to readers not familiar with Japanese post-war pop culture. Many karaoke-tunes are referenced in the story -- it's one of the few outlets (and social activities) both groups have -- and each of the chapter-titles is taken from a 'golden oldie' of sorts (Wednesday Afternoon Picnic helpfully offers a You Tube-linked playlist (scroll down) to the tunes); obviously the music (and the karaoke-comradery) are more readily appreciated in the film-version (titled Karaoke Terror in the US).
       A broad satirical farce, Popular Hits of the Showa Era nevertheless is a fairly penetrating depiction of contemporary Japanese society, with Murakami especially good at the details he presents about the different characters. He's less good at putting it all together -- it's all a bit simple and lazy -- but quite a bit of this is very funny, too, and there's no denying that Murakami's willingness to smash through most any and all boundaries makes for some interesting surprises along the way (predictable fiction this is not).
       As flawed as it is, it remains rather good odd fun. Though very odd, admittedly.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 February 2011

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era: Reviews: Karaoke Terror - the movie: 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. He was born in 1952.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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