Ryu Murakami is one of Japan’s most famous authors. His work is often characterised by shocking violence and off the wall themes, as seen from hits like In the Miso Soup and Audition. But even the enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese literature doesn’t have to be defined by one type of genre. Murakami is just as capable of writing a story that’s relatable and deeply personal like Sixty-Nine.
A love letter to the 1960s
Sixty-Nine follows the life of thirty-two-year-old author Kensuke Yazaki, who looks back fondly on his high school year of 1969. From the very beginning, Yazaki’s smartass humour and unreliable narration is entertaining. Keen to push back against traditional Japanese culture, Yazaki tries to stage a political festival in the hope of impressing the girls in his school.
Joined by his friends Iwase and Adama, Yazaki creates ‘The Morning Erection’ Festival and shoots a film with the object of his desire, Lady Jane, AKA Kazuko Matsui. Yazaki’s antics soon draw the attention of teachers, gangs and police alike. From pressganging a student into shitting himself as part of a faux political stand, to obsessing over western music, Yazaki is the kind of protagonist readers can root for and relate to.
In a departure from his other books, there’s something romantically playful about Murakami’s writing with Sixty-Nine. There’s no gory murders or shady crimes being committed. Just a group of kids living in the moment and trying to change the world in the most idiotic way they know how. The atmosphere is charged with plenty of 1960s references, recalling a simpler time.
Yazaki’s relationship with Kazuko forms the heart of the novel and it’s interesting to see how he views the bond across the passage of time. By the end of the book, you feel as if he’s reached a place of contentment by being able to break away from his small beginnings in his hometown. But at the same time, he’ll always be connected by the memories he has of that year where everything came together for better or worse.
With its focus on the human condition, on the simple joy of being young and dumb, Sixty-Nine stands up as one of Murakami’s most memorable novels. Purchase it now on Amazon.