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3.9 out of 5 stars73
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 9 January 2010
This is the first Ryu Murakami book I have read, though I am more familiar with the other, equally surreal Murakami (Haruki). Once you have read the backcover and then onto first page you instantly find yourself engrossed in this story as it unfolds...

You find yourself in a Tokyo beyond the sushi, anime and hi-tech gadgets - the reader is taken, as if almost on a tour of the red-light districts vibrant, diverse and perverse night-life. But what is central of course are the two main characters - a local night life tourist guide and a fat American tourist.

As the story progresses, it perpetuates the guide's paranoia and eventual fear of this strange foreigner - something about him just doesn't seem right as you will discover the more you read on.

What I found most interesting was the author's brave yet honest, and in many ways justifiable criticism of how - like many nations- are loosing their own cultural heritage and identity in favour of the globally appealing Americanism.

Murakami paints a picture of a highly modern people, more so than the West - yet utterly confused about who they are - and what it means to be Japanese - to such extents that some foreign characters know more about the traditions and culture of the locals than the locals themselves.

Paradoxically, at one point a Japanese character seems to know more about a certain thing or too about American culture than our American tourist.

As many other reviewers and many others who have read the book will tell you - there is "that" one scene - it will stay in your mind perhaps longer than any other aspect of the story, message or plot, etc - I am not sure if this is the intention of the author but it is truly unforgettable.

It truly was one of- if not the most gruesome, explicitly detailed and violent scenes I have ever read depicted in prose. Ashamedly, however you find yourself still carrying on reading with a sort of frown on your face reflecting the natural distaste and disgust at what you are reading. The scene is not even that long - yet it feels incredibly long - even for the character as it were. Though I must say, it surely must require some talent to come up with this - though it does make you question the goings on of the mind that produces such flowery imagery.

One disappointment though, is that toward the end the pace and excitement starts to slow - of course this is because it is drawing to its close - however it starts to take on a whole different tone, focussing more on the life behind this American tourist - in an attempt to explain why he is - like he is. Though I wasn't too convinced and a little disappointed there was no "twist" that would completely knock you off balance from where you thought the plot was taking you. The ending is rather anti-climactic with no real closure- though with a lot to reflect upon about culture and identity.
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on 20 October 2009
This dark thriller is my favorite Ryu Murakami book so far. It's about a real terror who walks into another person's unguarded life and creates an inescapable sense of real danger. Would you run? Hide? Or simple try to wait for the situation to pass? There is much more nerve jangling suspension than real sex and violence. But when violence does happen in this story it's far and away more graphic than anything I could imagine myself. The US character Frank is a schizophrenic mix of the assassin character from No Country for Old Men and a blue chip company sex tourist.

Without giving anything away, the ending won't please traditionalists. But personally, I hate those McNovel formats anyway. I feel the translator Ralph McCarthy deserves a mention for his excellent work on this book.

Here's another Japan psychological thriller book which gets really good in the second half:
Out
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on 14 June 2005
What at a glance appears to be a fairly standard concept for a novel - is our protagonists client the serial killer at large? - is taken in a very different direction by the time the story ends. It's a direction that I can only imagine a Japanese author taking it: disturbing but poignant, and maybe a little frustrating in its ambiguity - though it's the frustrating things that are ultimately most rewarding. Of course only a Japanese author could have written it because the novel is essentially about the closed nature of Japan's society: alienating to foreigners and in a state of self-denial.
I'm usually a slow reader but this novel hooked me in from the start and I finished it in less than 24 hours. The writing style is much more fluid and rich than other Japanese novels I've read, such as Haruki Murakami's, though I'm never sure exactly how much of that is down to the translator rather than the original author. The author does, however, clearly have excellent ability when it comes to the pacing. Perhaps around the last third of the novel it loses its narrative drive, but the change to a slower, more thoughtful style is what gives the book its unique edge, taking it from being simply a gripping read to a novel that leaves a lasting impression and screams out to be read again.
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on 28 November 2011
What a roller-coaster this book was.

Kenji is a taxi driver/tour guide for the sex district in Tokyo. If your visiting the city and you want someone to show you the best sex clubs/prostitutes etc. with a translator then Kenji is your man. When an overweight American called Frank hires Kenji for three nights over new years eve, it soon becomes obvious that Frank has murderous desires on his mind. What follows is a descent into evil and murder.

The picture of Tokyo that the author paints is a vivid one and he uses the guide Kenji to great effect as he also 'guides' the reader around the sex district and how large parts of it operate. The conversations between Kenji and Frank are quite compelling and its interesting to see sometimes how Frank knows more about Japanese culture than Kenji and Kenji knows more about some aspects of American culture. There is a lot of commentary on modern travel and life and Kenji muses on the loneliness among the American business travellers he guides (although it has to be said that the kind of Americans Kenji comes into contact with are going to be lonely to a certain extent.)

There is some quite shocking violence in the book but sometimes I found the violence a little too over the top to have realistic impact. The majority of the book follows Kenji as he become more suspicious of Frank who is an unnerving character. Unfortunately the book loses a little momentum during the second part but at only 180 pages it manages to fit a lot in there.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2011
Ryu Murakami was born in Nagasaki in 1952. His first book, "Almost Transparent Blue" was first published in 1976 and won that year's Akutagawa Prize. "In the Miso Soup" - his eleventh book - was first published in 1997, with the English translation following in 2003.

The story is told by Kenji, a twenty year old nightlife guide based in Tokyo. He specialises in guiding foreigner tourists around the city's sex districts - which wouldn't have pleased his mother too much as she thought he was enrolled on a college preparation course. However, he earns a decent living and hopes - one day - to earn his passage to America. "In the Miso Soup" sees Kenji looking back to the previous December, when he was hired for three days by an overweight American called Frank.

Right from the moment they met, Kenji thought there was something odd about Frank. His initial story about being in Japan on Tokyo is full of holes, and - as time goes on - Kenji's becomes more and more suspicious. (There's no one major lie that rings an alarm bell - it's more a steady stream of little lies that gradually start to add up...Frank mentions two older sisters at one point, but later claims there'd only been boys his family. He also tells Kenji he's a massive baseball fan, but doesn't even know how to hold a bat). More than that, there's something not quite right about how Frank's looks - and it's more than just the extra weight or dressing sloppily. After being ignored by a tout, there's a very worrying change in his expression - even "his eyes lost any recognisable human quality." His wrists are heavily scarred, his skin looks slightly "off" - like it's almost artificial - and, for some reason, he doesn't seem to notice the cold. Frank's weirdness rattles Kenji to the point that he believes the rotund American could actually be responsible for a couple of recent murders...

Despite the one gruesome scene, I'd have described "In the Miso Soup" as more of a puzzle than a mystery / thriller. Somehow, there was something a little unconvincing about Frank and I wasn't left entirely convinced by the book's ending. Having said that, it was an easily read book overall with some nice writing - and it was an awful lot better than some other big sellers I've read. I'd certainly be willing to try a few more by Murakami based on this.
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on 1 March 2008
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami is on the surface a gritty hard boiled thriller set in the Kabuki-cho red-light district of Tokyo as the approaching New Year leaves near empty except for the human wreckage of the city. Jimji a young illegal sex tourist guide makes a good but shady living from taking westerners around the girlie bars, peep shows, hookers that allow foreigners.

He meets up with Frank who hires him for three days but from the start Jimji feels something is wrong and he starts to be sucked into an ever deepening nightmare that threatens his and his girl friend existence.

The story is told in the 1st person from Jimji perspective and is based on clear fluid writing equal if not better then Haruki Murakami, which evokes the place and time so that you have a movie in your head. Not necessarily a good thing given some of things that happen.

Beneath the surface is a very different story which leads to conclusions and beginnings that can be misunderstood if psycho thriller is the readers' sole expectation. We are instead being lead into mediation through the events affecting two desperate characters on what the Western and Japanese experience of loneliness is. The key passage for me is this one.

I remember the American making this particular confession, and the way his voice caught when he said "accept it". Americans don't talk about just grinning and bearing it, which is the Japanese approach to so many things. After listening to a lot of these stories, I began to think that American loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it made me glad I was born Japanese. The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you will get through if you just hang in there. I don't think I could stand the sort of loneliness Americans feel.

Reflect on what is being said here and you will enjoy a taut psychological thriller whose outcome makes perfect sense. Highly recommended
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on 27 February 2007
I picked this up randomly and I'm glad I did. Ryu does a wonderful job of keeping you gripped and constantly reading page after page just to find out what's going to happen and whether your suspicions are correct.

A perfect example of what happens when people are left to their thoughts through self-solitude and not quite fitting in with the rest.

Written from the first person, this book follows Kenji, a Red Light District guide, and his involvement with Frank, an American visitor to Tokyo looking for a good time. But Frank leaves you guessing, not only about himself, but about both characters. Literary genius !
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on 17 November 2004
Murakami wrote the screenplay for the deeply nasty film "Audition".
I have to say that I didn't know this when I first read this book, which I picked up on the strength of one of his other books "Coin locker Babies" (which I picked up in mistake for a Haruki Murakami novel... a happy error!).
This book is every bit as nasty.
I will give nothing away, except to say that the book gives a completely convincing account of contemporary Tokyo and the place of the outsider within it, be that outsider foreign or one of the many "underclass" who seem to wander the streets of the city, and that once you have started it, you will be reading non-stop to the end.
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on 22 April 2009
A Japanese tour guide specialising in showing tourists around the sexier elements of Tokyo nightlife is hired by an eccentric customer but as the gruesome murders begin to pile up, he realises he may have made an awful mistake.
Murakami's novel is relentlessly dark and absorbing, delving into a Japan where the bright colour and gaudy lights hide a deeper darkness and sense of futility. The story is beautifully paced, short and impossible to put down. Frank is one of the most chilling characters I have ever read about, his manipulations of logic fascinating and frightening.
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on 1 May 2006
Started well with a lot of promise and mystery.

Enjoyed it alot with alot of expectation for the ending. Nice writing style too, though could have been more sensitive in places.

However, for me, the ending for me was too simple.

Once it had built up to the climactic halfway point all the questions in your mind that made the story extraordinary and exciting were simply answered.

In place of the earlier excitement was a generally more philosophical tone that was too subtle and underplayed to be engaging and failed to add anything essential or valueable.

I got well into the book and couldn't put it down, but after The Main Event of the story, my continued enthusiasm was not well rewarded.
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