:: Article

He Got An Icepick – Murakami’s Piercing

Ryu Murakami, Piercing, Bloomsbury, 2007 (translation)

In Japan, the sexes are famously divided by codes of etiquette, language, and social obligation. Even Valentine’s Day (the day when girls give boys chocolate) is segregated from White Day (when boys give girls lingerie) by a month. In the fictive world of Ryu Murakami, men and women even have their own forms of pain.

Ryu Murakami’s recently translated 1994 novel Piercing serves as both s/m manual and public service announcement for Child Welfare. A love story of sorts, the narrative camera trains closely and relentlessly on the interior lives of a tormented family man and a haunted dial-a-prostitute, both suffering from hard-core Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While he compulsively fantasizes about impaling his infant daughter with an ice pick, she longs to have her clitoris engorged in elastic threading. This, Murakami shows his reader, is the closest we can come to romance in our narcissistically obsessed culture.

As luck would have it, the volume is available in time for Valentine’s Day.

Murakami’s knack for drawing the reader into complicity with the basest characters, grossest acts, and most perverted intentions is at its razor sharpest in this claustrophobic character study. The logic world outside the heads of our leading man and lady are given no play time, as the narrative goes into total lock-down on such thoughts as “…the sex you have with a man at your own suggestion is just never that good” and “To be able to choose your own pain — it’s a little scary… but it’s wonderful, too”. So monotonously persuasive, the reading begins to feel more like textual torture than literature — but in a stickily addictive way that’s impossible to reject. By the end of the book, your Valentine sweetheart may be restraining you with the espresso machine cord, and bludgeoning you with the can opener, but you may not even protest. You may have already been swayed by the persistent cruelty that substitutes for pleasure in this stomach-turning world.


Either Murakami is commenting on the profound alienation of the average person in late-Capitalist society — or he isn’t. Hard to tell. One difficulty of reading in translation, especially between such syntactically diverse languages as Japanese and English, is the loss of nuance, in which such subtleties as irony become lost, muddled, or created where there was meant to be none. So, for example, is Piercing’s seemingly cut and dry causal relationship between childhood abuse and adult sado-masochistic violence meant to be read as a satire of contemporary self-help philosophy? A straight endorsement of kindness to children? Or something else? Perhaps the answer lies in the original Japanese text. Or perhaps even asking the question indicates that I haven’t yet reached that sublime state where pleasure and pain are two hues of the same deliciously suffocating velvet. Well, there’s always White Day.

Hillary Raphael holds an MFA in Fiction from Hunter College in New York City where she won the MFA Thesis Prize for her novel, I love Lord Buddha (Creation Books). She is also known for a non-fiction book about the Japanese butoh dance movement, Outcast Samurai Dancer, a collaboration with Japanese culture expert Donald Ritchie and photographer Meital Hershkovitz. Her novel Backpacker New York, Seoul, Phnom Penh, Sapporo, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Mexico City, Maputo, Tokyo, Mon Amour is forthcoming in 2007. Read her 3:AM interview.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, February 3rd, 2007.