tagReviews & EssaysAlmost Transparent Blue

Almost Transparent Blue


Upon first reading Ryu Murakami's Akutagawa Literary Award (1976) winning book, Almost Transparent Blue, I immediately thought of Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Both books looked into society from the decadent, perverse, often obscene viewpoint of the current day's youth. Both books featured a nonstop whirlwind of casual sex, alcohol and drug abuse between a free-wheeling group of late teens. While Ellis' book chronicles an over-privileged set of bored American adolescents in a constant pursuit of cheap thrills, Murakami looks at a seedier, less privileged group of Japanese youth.

Ellis has his characters wheeling around in the luxury cars of the mid 80's, while Murakami's youth are strictly mass transit and run-down apartment types. Free of the consequence of shared needles and free sex (the book was first published in 1976) Murakami drags us through a seemingly unending drug laced orgy broken up with only short sidesteps into public restroom muggings, several violent attacks between friends, and trips to the hospital.

Murakami details dark truth of his character's "colorful" and carefree lifestyles in their complete unsavory gore. Color is infused throughout his descriptions revealing the true nature of events. For example, his main character, Ryu, observes a cockroach climbing near a gob of ketchup on a stack of dirty dishes and contemplates:

"When you smash cockroaches, the juice comes out in different colors. Maybe the belly of this one was full of red now.

"Once when I killed a roach crawling on a paint palette, the juice was a bright fresh purple. Since there'd been no purple paint on the palette, I thought red and blue must have mixed together in that little belly."
(1. pg 9)

Later, as Ryu is beckoned by a girlfriend, he finds the answer to his contemplation:

"The juice from the roach was yellow. Smashed on the edge of the table, it stuck there, the antennae still stirring slightly.

"Lilly slid off her panties, called me again."
(1. pg 11)

As colorful as the insides of these smashed cockroaches, Murakami's characters ooze from apartment to apartment in search of drugs and naked bodies. Located near the Yokota US military base, the local kids trade sex for drugs with several black men from the base, they nearly always end up in a chaotic mass of naked flesh.

Murakami depiction of the sex scenes is as unflattering as his description of the smashed cockroaches:

"The black woman was already drunk on something. She put her arms under my armpits and made me stand up, then stood herself and began to dance." He continues, "...At the smell of the black woman, clinging to me with her sweat, I almost fell. The smell was fierce, as if she were fermenting inside. She was taller than I, her hips jutted out, her arms and legs were very slender. Her teeth looked disturbingly white as she laughed and stripped. Lighter colored, pointed breasts didn't bounce much even when she shook her body. She seized my face between her hands and thrust a tongue in my mouth. She rubbed my hips, undid the hooks of the negligee, and ran her sweaty hands over my belly. Her rough tongue licked around my gums. Her smell completely enveloped me; I felt nauseated.

"Kei came crawling over and gripped my cock, saying, Do it right, Ryu, get it up. All at once spittle gushed from one corner of my mouth down to my chin and I couldn't see anymore."
(1. pg 53)

This is certainly not the most appealing look at a prelude to sex. Murakami's scenes are a sensual and realistic mixture of motion, sound and smells that you can almost feel, hear and smell. He mixes the scent of fruit, alcohol, blood, semen and vomit with the raw, naked action of his characters.

While reading, I occasionally found myself flipping back and forth through the pages, trying to confirm exactly what party I was reading about and trying to figure out exactly who all the characters were in the orgy. Initially this bothered me, but I came to realize, I was experiencing exactly what these kids were, confusion and a lost sense of identity. They all became just body parts and an assortment of fluids.

Through the book as a result of two shocking incidents, the kids begin to learn what their lives are really like. In the first incident, a violent mugging at a public toilet, one of their friends is badly hurt, requiring a short stay in a hospital. In the second incident, they witness a jealous friend nearly beat his girlfriend to death after she has sex with one of the black men. Finally realizing there is a consequence to their actions, Ryu and his friends begin to fall apart.

In one of their last parties, a wasted Ryu smashes a brandy glass, takes a shard and cuts himself. He puts the shard in his pocket and runs from the party. Later, he looks at the shard:

"It was boundless blue, almost transparent. I stood up, and as I walked to my own apartment, I thought, I want to become like this glass. And then I want to reflect this smooth white curving myself. I want to show other people these splendid curves reflected in me.

"The edge of the sky blurred with light, and the fragment of glass soon clouded over. When I heard the songs of birds, there was nothing reflected in the glass, nothing at all."
(1. pp-125-126)

He had finally learned something of his lifestyle. While he would not admit he had changed, it was all too apparent.

Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami is available new from Amazon and used from Ebay's half.com. Murakami has three other books translated into English including: In the Miso Soup (2004), Coin Locker Babies (1997), and 69 (1987) (about the year 1969). He has also written, and written and directed several movies including: "Tokyo Decadence", "Audition", and "Because of You".


1. Murakami, Ryu Almost Transparent Blue Kodansha International Ltd. Tokyo, Japan 1977. My copy: Seventh paperback printing 1990.

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