Month: May 2010

Dance Dance Dance

ダンス・ダンス・ダンス :: Haruki Murakami :: Trans. Alfred T. Birnbaum :: Vintage :: 1988 :: 393 pages

In the beating heart of a booming 1980s Tokyo, a young(ish) man is left by his wife, to ride the wave of his time by himself. In his regained bachelorhood, he rejects a standard salaryman existence, standing and fending for himself in the big boys world of battling corporate interests as a freelance magazine and PR writer. Staring out into the capitalistic lights of the post-modern Shibuya, he partakes in the boredom and excitement of liberty from constraints.

Experiencing such liberty (no doubt further encouraged by the breakdown of his marriage) made him a firm believer of live and let live. His individualism and his independence baffles even him. As time ticks by, he is willing to forfeit almost anything to keep this liberty complete, leaving him without ties or obligations to take into consideration. Playing the outsider has the drawback of breeding an existential vacuum. In that void, his mind colourfully conjures up questions and answers about his existence and the world around him. When a mental ease in life comes back to him, his mind circles his wounded heart, suddenly desperate to find out what happened to an old love.

As in a thriller, he makes it his mission to track her down, but even in the controlled environment which is that life of his, he is thrown around off track every few steps of the way. The novel magically blends and mixes this seemingly unstructured path into one which is to become the narrative of his life. By the time you get through to the end of this mesmerizing novel, you can not help but be amazed at the coherence which Murakami creates in the chaos.

Dance Dance Dance, besides a very personal story, also offers a certain vision of its time, through the narrator. It is not only that singular freedom he has to do as he pleases, but also the ephemeral time in which he lives, in an economic order which can not last. The narrator is understandably impressed by the pervasiveness of expense accounts which create a potential consumption of goods irrespective of whether or not you have anything to spend. The concept becomes the clearest with his actor friend, who, when he loses everything he had in a terrible divorce, he seems to be spending only more. His employer, a film production house, has so much invested in him, that his image as a successful star can not be tarnished. And so the actor is set-up in a trendy Azabu apartment with a Maserati and an expense account. Because his success depends on image, any expenses he may consider necessary for himself will contribute to his image and his worth, to his investors that is. Mildly exaggerating: the more he spends off his expense account, the better. A successful actor creates a buzz, making him more in demand, upping his value. And so forth.

The narrator, despite his stubborn insistence on independence for his own integrity, also gets caught up in the money game. If you earn a lot of money, then the more other people do for you (even at your expense) will allow you to earn even more. On top of that, your costs will be deductible. Either way, you will not care about the expenses. This somewhat perverse situation comes around several times in different forms, promoting the booming and wasteful consumer society which Tokyo has become. If Samurai honour and Kimono wearing geisha’s seem far away then you are right. For the narrator they are far enough as not to reach him. He drives his Subaru through a modern Japan of Jazz and pop music, soaps, trashy magazines and capitalizing investments firms. But throughout all the flashing neon lights, Murakami never looses sight of an inherent mystique, nor for a fascination with his world. Highly recommended.

This is Murakami’s sixth novel.


Enter the Void

Enter the Void
Gaspar Noé :: France :: 2009 : 2h30

A young American junkie and small time dealer in Tokyo gets shot by the police as he tries to flush his stash of drugs down the toilet. As he lies there in the foetal position, looking at this bloody hands, he feels his spirit drift away. Floating through the walls and over buildings, he sees the uninspired life which was around him continue. The life he so desperately fled through drugs. He sees his sister, for whom he should have been caring, struggle on in the urban fringe. He sees his past flash by through great bursts of psychedelic light. The young Oscar may have died.

This film may sound akin to a 60s or 70s Californian religious experience, mixing a wildly coloured LSD trip with some scaled down eastern philosophy. To a certain extent that covers the whole film, although here Oscar’s life is just soaked in nihilism. Of course the title already says as much. Oscar does not seem capable of taking any decision at all, just letting himself be jostled around. His life, and that of his sister, completely lacks any direction other than self-destruction. That makes for a frustrating watch. There is, however, some love between the characters, but that is not enough to bring any happiness or improve anyone’s wellbeing. For a story about a metaphysical religious experience, that is pretty dismal.

Perhaps the core problem of the film is, paradoxically enough, the lack of dimensions. Our protagonist junkie Oscar’s life is just too simple, as is his sister’s, in as far as we are granted a look into it. And that, is not that much. Two and a half hours of watching, and the two main characters can be described in a few lines. Rather than delving into their lives, the time is filled with pornographic material, unsavoury images and crudely put together scenes which we float over. Would that really be what a spirit saw of Oscar’s life? Is there nothing else in there worth remembering, or nowhere else in the present worth visiting?

Eight years after the extremely violent and traumatising revenge film Irreversible, Gaspar Noé shows us where he is with his development in style and technique. That floating spirit looking down on the past and the living is the eye of a hovering camera – we are put into a first-person view. It feels as light and smooth as a feather in the wind. An impressive technical feat. But all that movement has a price: a mixture of boredom and nausea. This could have been helped – an hour of the screen flashing and the out of focus twirling imagery could easily have been removed in the montage, keeping the general thought in tact. But even without that extra hour of superfluous footage, it may be more watchable, but will still not be entertaining. So why should you have to sit through it? To have a very long version of what could have been an innovative experimental short film? Well, there will be some out there – and that could be you- who will find the interest. Perhaps for those who have an obscure camera angle fetish or a love for wild colours or a thing for fractals on the big screen…