Author: Ryu Murakami
Publisher: Penguin Books
First Published: October 16, 1997
Genres: Crime, Horror, Thriller
In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife. But Frank’s behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion—that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.
I’m beginning to think that I have an unhealthy obsession with Japanese thrillers, I’ve loved every single one that I have picked up so far. In the Miso Soup is a noir thriller about a tour guide that takes wealthy American patrons around the red light district in Japan. Kenji thinks that he has seen it all with his American clients, but he’s struck by a terrible feeling when he meets Frank.
Frank is a gaijin, a foreigner that is enthralled with Japanese culture. There are many times that Frank is really cringy and ignorant, which is a common joke about tourists, but there is also something about Frank that is just… off. After his first night with the unusual gaijin, Kenji finds himself feeling shaken up.
As the story unfolds and we get a glimpse into the lives of the main characters, we see a country where people are disconnected and lonely. From soaplands to host clubs, omiai pubs, and high school girls that sell “companionship,” there is something hollow about these businesses that border on being inhuman. Although Frank appears to be something other than a man, in a way he fits right in with the cynical and lonely denizens of the district that play-act at relationships.
I loved this book and all of the thrills and chills that it provided, there were times that I gasped or felt genuinely unnerved. Frank and his escapades in the red light district really struck me, and he’s one of the more memorable literary figures I’ve ever encountered in fiction.
“I can’t say I sensed a particularly cruel or sadistic tendency in Frank, or even that he fit my image of a murderer. But what I did sense was an emptiness like a black hole inside him, and there was no predicting what might emerge from a place like that.”
Trigger Warning: Sex, Violence, Extreme Sexual Violence, Gore, Death, Torture