In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

When I first heard of the Japanese writer Ryu Murakami, I was naive enough to think that he was somewhat related to my then favorite author: Haruki Murakami. News flash, they both are not related. Ryu’s novels are more into psychological thriller, such as In the Miso Soup (1997).

Kenji, the main character, is a tour-guide for foreigners who seek sexual pleasure in Japanese nightlife districts. One cold December night, he accompanied an overweight American client named Frank. Kenji feels skeptical and threatened by Frank’s presence, but he still proceeds to do his job for the money. The novel follows up Kenji’s less than a week experience as a guide for Frank.

It’s no mystery that the bad guy in the novel is definitely Frank. Ryu did not make any effort to make Frank’s bizarre behavior and appearance as clandestine. From the beginning of the novel, Ryu was presumably screaming to the reader: “HEY EVERYONE! THE EVIL ONE HERE IS THE FAT WHITE GUY NAMED FRANK. I REPEAT, THE EVIL ONE IS THE WHITE GUY. OKAY? GOT IT? KEEP READING, MY COMRADES”. To be honest, I could already understand the whole damned plot by only reading the brief summary on the back of the novel. Nonetheless, I finished the 180 pages novel in 2 hours straight—yep, I just could not put it down. I kept wanting to know what would happen next.

Frank is described by Kenji as plastic skinned, with such horrifying serial-killer smile. In fact, Frank really is a serial killer, a cold blooded murderer. Frank calmly tells Kenji about his childhood, how he bites his mother’s hand off and kills some people in his neighborhood. At that time, police officers assume Frank as a child who gets too much violent exposure from TV. But it’s not even near the truth; Frank kills people because he loves the feeling of doing it, adores the abnormal but imaginable act. What scares Kenji the most is the fact that Frank tells the stories like he’s asking someone where’s the nearest McDonald’s—-like killing people is just an ordinary habit which is done every other day. There are news all around Tokyo about the death of a high-school prostitute along with a homeless man, and Kenji directly knows that the killer is Frank. Kenji’s assumption is proven to be true as Frank tells him how homeless men should be exterminated due to their uselessness. When Frank is angered, something in his brain switches on, turning him into one brutal serial killer. Kenji watches hopelessly during Frank’s massacre of approximately 6 people in a brothel. The massacre was described with such details, leading me to skip a few pages because the situation was indeed too graphic. From what I knew (I read a few bits of pieces), Frank cuts a man’s ears, slits a girl’s throat, wrecks someone’s bleeding vagina, and almost kills Kenji, with only a little knife as his weapon. Fortunately, Kenji’s girlfriend calls before Frank has the opportunity to slit Kenji’s throat. What a relief! However, the whole brothel smells like decaying bodies (blood, blood, blood everywhere).

Image result for in the miso soup cover
The first edition of the book. Doesn’t it look disturbing?

I always hate thriller/horror novels, but I will always have some ways to read them. My curiosity of abnormal experiences will be the death of me. I did enjoy reading this novel, although it drowned me in loneliness. Through this novel, Ryu Murakami wishes to emphasize the desolation among Japanese citizens, especially in the red-light districts. No one cares about each other, to the point that privileged young girls become prostitutes merely for attention. In the Miso Soup ironically reflects today’s media depiction of white men. When white men kill people, they are portrayed as someone fragile because of mental illness; therefore, they can get away with all of their blatant crimes (exactly like Frank’s situation, right?). Instead of being locked up in jail, Frank receives the comfortable facility of mental institution. I mean, Frank’s punishment should be a death penalty, considering his heavy crimes. How privilege can this pathological liar, psychotic white man be? Imagine yourself as Kenji, being followed nearly every night for almost a week by a serial-killer. I’d be scared to death.

P.S His name might not even be Frank.

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