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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tokyo Decadence

Murakami Ryu

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To purchase Tokyo Decadence

Title: Tokyo Decadence
Author: Murakami Ryu
Genre: Stories
Written: (1986-2003) (Eng. 2016)
Length: 266 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Tokyo Decadence - US
Tokyo Decadence - UK
Tokyo Decadence - Canada
  • 15 Stories by Ryu Murakami
  • Tokyo Decadence offers a selection of stories from five collections published by Murakami between 1986 and 2003
  • Translated by Ralph McCarthy

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, nicely varied collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 5/3/2016 Damian Flanagan

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t is indispensable to understanding why Ryu Murakami (...) has been so garlanded with honors in Japan, including the prestigious Akutagawa and Noma prizes. (...) Murakami tends to write in Raymond Carver-mode, with open-ended narratives that intersect with other stories through characters and themes. In each of his short story collections, he also focuses on a particular locale in Tokyo (.....) Resonating with some fascinating ideas on the nature of art itself, Murakamiís stories offer a fearless and iconoclastic insight into the subterranean obsessions and passions of Japanís megalopolis." - Damian Flanagan, The Japan 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:

       Tokyo Decadence offers a selection of stories from five collections published by Murakami between 1986 and 2003. (It should not be confused with the Murakami film of the same title (and, in Japanese, released as トパーズ ('Topaz' -- also the title of his 1988 collection, three stories from which are included here).) There are connections running through each of the collections (well, one assumes so -- there's only one sample from the final collection, so there's nothing to compare that to), beginning with the first, 'Run, Takahashi !', in which (real-life) Tokyo Carp baseball player Takahashi Yoshihiko figures in some form in each story, generally as some sort of point of reference. (In a brief note at the end of the book, translator McCarthy (heartbreakingly) mentions that he translated all eleven of the 'Run, Takahashi !'-stories in the late 1980s, "certain that someone would publish the collection in English. No one did, but I managed to receive an NEA grant for the work"; three of the stories are included in Tokyo Decadence.) These unifying threads from the various collections dangle , briefly, tantalizingly, section after section, but Tokyo Decadence as a whole has a choppier feel; on the other hand, it also shows considerably greater range than any one of these collections can.
       There is a lot of Tokyo in Tokyo Decadence -- the collections tend to be localized, too, centered on a particular area or aspect of the city -- and there's more decadence. The decadence ranges from straightforward sex-for-hire excess to autobiographically-tinged stories of the author's early days in Tokyo involving a good deal of drugs and some very loose (and partially unhinged) women, to the twenty-year-old loser ("How did she know ? I was a pervert. I was what they call a masochist"), who takes action when his obsessive stalking is discovered and goes on a brief killing spree. There's actually surprising restraint to most of this: the drug taking tends to be very casual, mentioned incidentally but hardly elaborated much on, and even the most brutal acts are quickly dealt with; the triple-homicide of 'Each Time I Read your Confession' barely covers half a paragraph (though Murakami can still make a lasting impression, that description horribly-memorably closing: "It sounded like stepping in mud") -- and the focus of the story is on the murder he didn't commit.
       There's an interesting range of narrators: in several cases clearly autobiographical -- the stories from 'Ryu's Cinematheque' -- while he also repeatedly assumes a female's voice. Protagonists are often succinctly introduced and placed, often in the stories' opening lines: "I am a novelist. I'm thirty-five years old"; "I was eighteen"; "I was twenty-three or so".
       A recurring theme of sorts is self-discovery, the stories (including the autobiographical ones) essentially ones of characters explaining how they've reached this point -- become the person they are -- the stories themselves then essentially ones of that realization of who they really are (or always have been). It's most obvious in 'It All Started Just About a Year and a Half Ago', the narrator describing his (un)surprising metamorphosis, flowering when his wife left him and the trucking company he worked for went bust, leaving him unemployed.
       The revealing autobiographical pieces of 'Ryu's Cinematheque' are interesting background, also in the context of Murakami's other fiction. Among the most powerful parts of the whole collection comes in 'La Dolce Vita', the young narrator finding a friend, Wada, who opens a new world of artistic vision to him, the two of them at a crossroads of what path to take, the narrator, inspired and overcome with emotion (and convinced) after having seen the film La Dolce Vita leaving a note for Wada:

Fellini's amazing. You should make films. Forget about the ad agency. Let's make another movie together.
       It's not: "even one percent of what I'd wanted to tell him", he realizes -- but it also doesn't matter; the two friends have already made their separate choices.
       Tokyo Decadence offers a nice variety of stories; a few might fall a bit flat, but there are no duds here, and Murakami offers a diverse range of stories. It does, however, feel somewhat like a sampler volume -- for better and worse. That broad range is certainly welcome, but the coherence and connections of the individual collections is mostly lost -- all the more noticeably so in that the collections where it is most obvious, 'Run, Takahashi !' and 'Swans', are the strongest in the volume. 'Swans', in particular-- the strongest sequence of stories -- feels like (part of) a cycle, and even though the offering here is generous -- four stories -- one misses what is missing.
       Tokyo Decadence is a very welcome collection: Murakami remains an underestimated and underappreciated author (though fortunately quite a few of his works have been translated into English), and this is a very good introduction to his writing, giving a good sense of what he does and how he does it. It offers new insights to old fans, too. But it is a shame that the complete collections aren't available, just these morsels .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 March 2016

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Tokyo Decadence: 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. He was born in 1952.

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