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.