Psycho Thriller – Qu’est-ce que c’est?
By Steve Finbow.
Ryu Murakami, Audition, Bloomsbury, 2009.
At the suggestion of his teenage son Shige, Aoyama, a forty-something documentary maker, decides it is about time he remarried. His beautiful, talented and understanding wife Ryoko has been dead for seven years, a viral cancer cutting short her life. A lover of jazz and classical music, Aoyama elicits the help of his advertising executive friend Yoshikawa to find a would-be bride. The two men plan to hold auditions for a potential (phantom) film about a dancer who has to give up her profession because of an injury – Aoyama’s perfect partner should have a background in music or ballet. They produce a radio show as a call to audition. The response is overwhelming – over 4,000 applicants send in a photo, a résumé, and a short essay about themselves. Even before the auditions commence, Aoyama is captivated by a young woman whose essay he finds intriguing and whose photo mesmerizes him. On the day of the audition, Aoyama perfunctorily assesses the applicants, nervously awaiting the appearance of the intriguing Yamasaki Asami. In the first 50+ pages of this short novel, Ryu Murakami subtly builds tension through personal history and familial responsibility, interspersing the narrative with thoughts on post-war Japan, consumerism, the changing face of Japanese youth culture, and the sex industry. There are some memorable lines, including: “He’d also proposed a theory: that the legs of young Japanese women epitomized the best of the changes that had occurred in the decades since World War II. Aoyama was inclined to agree.”
I hear you all shout: Yeah, so what happens next? Come on – we’re on tenterhooks here. Where’s the lashings of claret? The dollops of clotted bodily fluid? Battleship grey blancmange-like tissue Pollocked over the floor? Hold on a minute. You’ll just have to wait.
During Yamasaki Asami’s interview, Aoyama is transfixed by her beauty. She is all he has hoped for. However, Yoshikawa has misgivings – there is something strange about this young woman. Aoyama returns home with an 8mm film of the audition. He thinks about the increasing violence of Japanese society, the “depravity” of politicians. Opening an expensive bottle of cognac, he calls Yamasaki Asami and arranges to meet her at a café in Akasaka. Yoshikawa calls and warns Aoyama of certain things about Yoshikawa Asami’s past. Aoyama dismisses his suspicions. They meet as arranged and things go smoothly until a strange incident when a young man in a wheelchair is disconcerted by Yamasaki Asami’s presence. Aoyama ignoreds the episode and the assignation is a success. They discuss the status of Japan and its people, the problems of class and caste, and Aoyamia proclaims Yamasaki to be “very…very real.” Aoyama tells his son about the date and Shige warns him about Yakuza molls and S&M clubs – the dark face of Japan that Aoyama is unable to see because of his obsession. On their third date, Yamasaki confides in him, telling of her childhood and the emotional and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her disabled stepfather. Ballet saved her. After a phone conversation in which Yoshikawa tells of his mother’s senility, Aoyama discovers that Yamasaki Asami’s mentor died of a heart attack after someone attempted to sever his feet. Again, Aoyama dismisses the warnings. The couple meet and Aoyama tells her he has wound down the radio programme and that the film is to be cancelled. Yamasaki Asami is inexplicably happy.
What’s that? OK. Come on. Come on. Get on with it. Where’s the gallons of gore? Where’s the voluminous viscera? The jugs of human juice? You’ll all have to wait. Be bloody patient.
They next meet in a restaurant in East Nakano. Here, Murakami reifies the theories in the novel – the Edo Kuruwa Ryori restaurant which specializes in Edo-period food is owned by an ex-geisha who wears traditional clothing – a manifestation of older morals. However, the restaurant is in an entertainment district thats alleys are filled with sex shops and peopled by foreign prostitutes, male hookers, and street punks. After explaining to Yamasaki about the changing style of Japanese food, Aoyama makes his move and tells her he is interested in marrying again. She panics and flees. Aoyama chases after her and is momentarily stunned by the sensory chaos of the surrounding area. He finds Yamasaki Asami waiting for a cab and she tells him she loves him. Aoyama returns to the restaurant to talk to the owner about his infatuation. The pair discuss the changing roles of the sexes in post-war Japan and how women have become more independent and driven. Kai (the owner/ex-geisha) warns him away from Yamasaki Asami.
Yeah, yeah, so far, so Melrose Place. We thought this was the ultimate in J-Horror. Bring on the sanguine splatters and hurry up with it. I told you to be patient. This is a psychological horror and a clever evisceration of modern Japanese society.
Ayoama talks to one of his staff about his affair, and the young woman suggests that Aoyama take Yamasaki Asami away for the weekend. She agrees. After showing him burn scars inflicted by her stepfather, she asks him, “Do you understand? You’ve got to love only me.” After a sex session that contains a few sentences worthy of the Bad Sex in Fiction award, Aoyama awakes to find Yamasaki Asami gone. He has been drugged. The sheets, soaked in sweat, semen and vaginal secretions, smell of their encounter. He vaguely recalls telling her about his son but cannot remember the sequence of events. He finds a note by the telephone. He tries to call her but there is no answer. She has disappeared. He dreams about her and her childhood abuse.
That’s more like it. At least we have some bodily excretions. But where’s the blood? The crimson corpuscles? The heaps of haemoglobin? The cruor? We want cruor! You want some? You want a bit of carnage? A descent into the realms of havoc? You got it…
Aoyama attempts to trace her; her phone has been disconnected, the address on her résumé is an old one. Aoyama takes to stalking the neighbourhood in which she said she lived. Months pass and there is no sign of her. His appetite is shot. During the day, he loses himself in work – at night, he escapes into classical music. His son helps by treating everything as normal and decides to go on a ski trip with friends leaving his father alone in the house… And then (you lovers of outrage will be pleased to hear) it all gets extreme. There are no cats, spaghetti, or cherry blossoms for this Murakami – think dogs, guts, and clotted blood. Read it in a day and have nightmares for a week.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 1st, 2009.