Never trust an Actress
Murakami, Ryu (translated by Ralph McCarthy)
Let me state this right out front. I’ve never seen the movie that they made out of Audition, but I heard some really good things when it came out – it was shown here in a film festival a few years ago and provoked quite a wee storm of controversy (which is kind of what film festivals go for). So when I was perusing the shelves in the library (I was actually looking for Kafka by the Shore by the other famous Murakami, Haruki) and came across this book instead, I thought I’d give it a bash.
The story is basically that Aoyama, a 42 year old widower with a fifteen year old son, Shige, concocts the idea of auditioning a bunch of young lovelies for a bogus movie, when really, he’s auditioning them for wife material. He owns a video production company, and his friend Yoshikawa (who is the one that comes up with the kind of morally ambiguous idea) is in films, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility. The wanna-be actresses are all asked to submit a biographical essay, and it is this essay that causes Aoyama to fall head-over-heels in lurve with Yamasaki, a 24-year-old ex-ballerina (turned crazy-ass serial mutilator, but he doesn’t know that yet). If I was a 42 year old man, I’d like to think that even a tiny part of my suddenly-testosterone-ravaged brain would be at least a little mistrustful of this demure, intense young woman hanging off my every word, which Yamasaki is frequently described as doing. But no, Aoyama follows the path beaten out for him, “in the received style, like any other spoony”, in the words of Edward Rochester. But Edward Rochester he ain’t, cublings.
The good bits first – it’s short. The translated version that I got runs to 200 pages exactly. I think that I would have felt more than a little discouraged if a book that short couldn’t be finished because it was just that terrible to read. Uh… other good bits? Isn’t one enough for you? It’s got a snazzy manga-esque cover. It’s… short, did I already mention that? The family relationships are okay, I guess – Aoyama is sort of well written, if only he wasn’t such an insufferable ignoramus, and Shige is a bit too perfect, and in fact becomes almost a cypher by the end of the book (though he does have an important part to play). I mean, for a boy who says flat out to his dad “Ever thought about getting married again?”, he’s a bit too respectful of the rest of his fathers business – never pushing to meet this girl who his dad is obviously mooning over in a big way, never even really asking questions about her. I guess all of that could be code for a bigger kind of metanarrative thing of how we’re all so disconnected nowadays (which seems to be an idea that Japanese fiction returns to again and again), but I don’t know. You could also read it in a way that when you’re as obsessively in love with a person the way Aoyama becomes, everything else (and every one else) ceases to exist for you. But I just never really cared enough about any of the characters to find out or to even think that much about why they do what they do.
I guess that there can be a two-word summation of the bad parts of this novel: it’s dull. I mean, I was expecting quite a lot, given the hoo-hah over the movie, but honestly. It’s billed as a psychological thriller, and I was anything but thrilled. You really shouldn’t be able to read a psychological thriller before bed, but I found myself drifting off, only able to read a page at a time. Now that is heavy dullness. Maybe I’m just jaded though; I am making my way very slowly through Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, which is gross out of the highest order. I mean, that shit is amazingly disgusting – what made me want to read it was this review, which is quite hilarious, and useful because it gives us the helpful phrase ‘Palahniuk Pass-out’. It’s not the Japanese-ness of the text either; the reason that I was looking for Kafka on the Shore is that I wanted to re-read it because it’s a great book; if you like that sort of thing (which I certainly do), you should try The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and some of the short stories and novellas of Junichiro Tanizaki too.
The language has a case of the Twilight‘s, too. I guess that that’s probably translation, not Murakami, and maybe it’s done to illustrate how central to Aoyama’s world Yamasaki Asami becomes. But it annoyed me in Twilight, all this gushing of superlatives, and it annoys me in Audition. Maybe if I was a bit younger, or still dating or something, Audition would interest me and freak me out a little. But I think that my palate is too jaded to really enjoy it. It’s not explicit enough, Aoyama is too much of a moaning pain-in-the-arse, Yamasaki… well. Without putting too fine a point on it, you just couldn’t get away with a character like Yamasaki in English fiction. She’s way too predictable a villian, for one thing, and all of this about her “troubled past” is almost too trite for words. The feminist in me was a bit sore from biting on her tounge at the treatment that Yamasaki gets at the hands of Murakami – you never get the sense that she either enjoys the violence, sees it as a righteous passtime, or feels that she’s in a a Jekyl and Hyde situation. In fact, you can really read the whole thing as a man’s fear of a woman’s sexuality, if you were that way inclined.