Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dansu Dansu Dansu

Dance Dance Dance is the first Murakami sequel that I have read.  While most of his novels share a similar sensibility, I'm used to each existing in its own separate, peculiar world.  Dance Dance Dance (hereafter DDD) exists in a peculiar world that is shared with A Wild Sheep Chase.  It has the same narrator, picks up about five years after the previous book ended, and continues with some of the same plot lines and characters as before.  More importantly, though, it continues in the same style, filled with dreamy logic and vivid yet bizarre scenes.

I THINK that one could read and enjoy this book without having previously read AWSC.  After all, it's not as if this book makes sense even if you have read the prequel, so you needn't worry much about losing the plot.  Still, it's probably best to read them in sequence, just because you'll already be tracking with the narrator's outlook and voice.

Murakami and his fans generally point to AWSC as the book where he first really found his preferred style, establishing the rhythm and attitude that would come to define his work.  DDD therefore picks up stylistically as well as thematically, continuing along the evolutionary path towards the future masterpieces of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore.  AWCS certainly had elements of the bizarre, but its overall structure followed the style of a thriller: the protagonist was sent on a mission, travelled to exotic locales, encountered people determined to stop him, uncovered a plot, enlisted the help of newfound friends, and won the day.  DDD has a more passive story structure that is closer to Murakami's later works.  There are nods in the direction of a mystery story - some murders, an investigation - but those are merely sidelines.  The core is about... well, a guy, who visits a hotel, has strange dreams, relaxes in Hawaii, watches a movie over a dozen times, would rather drive a Subaru than a Masarati, and gives nutritional advice to a thirteen-year-old girl.


The more I think about it, there's a pretty remarkable cast of characters in this book.  It just now occurred to me how much it is dominated by women.

KIKI: This is the woman from the previous book, an ear model and high-class prostitute.  Although physically absent from the action in this book, she is one of the most influential characters.  The narrator is obsessed with her, actively tries to find her, and views his relationship with other women through the lens of his brief time with her.

MEI: She only appears in one scene, but really charges up the book.  She is boisterous and cheerful, and makes a large impact that reverberates through the rest of the book.  Cuck-koo.

YUMIYOSHI: Possibly the most desired of the many desirable women in this tale.  A hotel clerk, she is also the most resistant to the hero's advances.  She also seems to be most compatible with his attitude, though... she'll turn down a date by calmly and simply static that she has swim practice.  Weirdly enough, even though we see much more of her than of Kiki or Mei, I felt like I knew her less than those other two.

YUKI: The most important character in the book.  Murakami does do a little bit of that creepy young-girl-as-desirable-object thing here, but thankfully it's well under control.  The narrator takes Yuki under his wing, somehow intuiting the perfect relationship that she most needs: not a stern adult, not a casual friend, but something intense, positive, and above all empathetic.  Yuki has a rough time, and I'm reminded of the high emotional stress that all teenagers encounter.  Yuki makes the narrator seem better than ever before.

AME: A fairly minor part, Yuki's mother is most interesting in the way that she illuminates Yuki.  Still, she's an intriguing character in her own light.  At the most extreme, she can be seen as the apotheosis of the narrator's personality: passive, distracted, disconnected from life, flitting from interest to interest without the ability to forge strong relationships.  And, by examining her extreme, I can pull out what I like about the narrator and Murakami's similar characters from other stories.  Our guy is passive in action, but not in mind: he's curious, receptive, unwilling to initiate but willing to follow a path as far as it goes.  Where she fails at relationships and seems oblivious about it, he seems to genuinely want them and wishes he could make them work better. 

There are some good male parts too, though fewer in number and generally less important than the women.  The most important is Gotanda, a former classmate of the hero who is now a famous actor.  Gotanda is one of the few characters who shifts during this book: with the others, you have a strong sense of constance, but our perception of Gotanda shifts from a lucky golden boy to a gracious alpha male to a tired yet genial has-been to something darker.  Some of this is his acting, but mostly it's a matter of perception, as the main character explores their relationship more deeply.


The writing is excellent throughout.  Murakami manages to be surprising without being shocking, to amaze without appearing to show off.  As before, I was quickly gripped by the story, and felt compelled to see where it went.

The title remains an enigma to me.  A character tells the hero "You gotta dance," explaining that only by dancing can he find what he's looking for.  He spends the rest of the book trying to fulfill that command.  He isn't literally dancing (though there are cute step diagrams separating occasional sections).  Rather, Murakami seems to be using dance to describe a certain way of approaching life: a state of intuitiveness, of attention, of responsiveness, of losing yourself.  Can someone dance alone?  He seems to be trying to.

At least, that's what I took away from the book... far be it from me to say that that's what Murakami had in mind.  Regardless, I enjoyed this particular dance.

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