Instead of a bang, Haruki Murakami starts After Dark off with the sound of a breath. The first paragraph sets the scene so that we do not know where the story is set geographically, but we do come away with a very good sense of what the city is like. As we discussed in class, the city is described using diction usually reserved to describing bodies. The result is that we come to view the city as a character itself – that is, before we are flung into the quiet world of Mari at the generic Denny’s.
The paragraph begins at the “top” of the body and works its way down, as it starts with “eyes mark the shape of the city.” The city is not literally eye-shaped, but it was eyes that built the city and the way the building glow. From the eyes, we move down to the heart as “countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells…” The “arteries” of the city pump out new and old data, consumables, and contradictions just as they do with the blood. The “fresh blood cells” are representative of the new people that are pumped in and out of the city every day; for example, the Chinese prostitute. “Fresh blood” goes in and our whether the city likes it or not, which is why “all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm”. As time goes on in the paragraph, we finally reach the middle of the body where “a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.” The body of the city is left at the end waiting for the “pregnancy” to come to fruition – just as the readers are waiting for the novel to begin.
The novel After Dark puts a lot of emphasis on the individual worlds that each person lives in, in contrast to the expansive reality that they exist within. The surreal elements in the novel, specifically the use of the television, allow for a direct view into the isolated worlds that each character has created for themselves. The most obvious example is the room on the other side of the television that Eri is transported to where she cannot escape. This represents the deep sleep that plagues her as she isolates herself from the “flesh-and-blood world” which houses her problems, including her inability to connect with her sister (109). Thus, Eri is only able to start to escape her own world and wake up once Mari tries to reconnect to her sister which solves the problem that drove Eri into her own isolated world to begin with. Mari reconnects with her sister in the same way that they first connected when they were children trapped in an elevator where they clung to each other to the point that they shared the same heartbeat. It is there when the darkness hid the flesh-and-blood world and allowed the sisters to connect on a more personal level. The novel may highlight the loneliness and isolation of people as they are trapped in their own individual worlds, but shows hope of an ability to connect with one another beyond the plane of reality.
Very similar to the literature that we have been reading all semester long, one very evident theme present in “After Dark” is alienation. I think that alienation is present in all characters that have so far been introduced, but especially in the main character, Mari. Mari is introduced in the novel by sitting in a Denny’s by herself late at night, reading a book. She is concentrating very hard on reading her book, completely ignoring the environment around her. I think there is something to Mari’s character, as to why she seems to prefer to be alone. It seems that any time she gets other people through the course of the story, she looks for a way to get away as soon as possible. An example of this is when Mari and Kaoru are looking for some time to pass, and Kaoru takes Mari to a bar. Kaoru says “I could really use a nice cold beer. How about you?” Mari replies, “I can’t drink.” Kaoru then says, “So have some juice or something. What the hell, you’ve gotta be someplace killing time till morning” (Murakami, 65). When the two are on their way to the bar, Mari seems a little reluctant to go, but she eventually warms up to Kaoru and starts talking once they order their drinks. I do not completely know why Mari has the tendency to prefer to be alone, but I think that answer will come once we have read the book in its entirety.
After Dark‘s revolving set of characters provide plenty of contrasting scenes and emotions in the novel. Each character brings about his or her own mood as soon as they enter, like a character’s theme music in a movie. When Kaoru is “on-screen,” we know to expect big, bold brashness, but with Mari, we expect quiet and stillness. Takahashi, on the other hand, bring an almost non-stop stream of thought and questions from the very start. Despite their differences, all three characters are able to blend with each other and give us great interactions. The one thing that accompanies all of their interactions is food. Mari and Takahashi seem to be constantly eating when they’re together, and Kaoru’s personality is seen in what she drinks.
Mari’s first appearance in Denny’s tells us a great deal about her. She is drinking coffee with displeasure, as she is only doing so because “that is the role of the customer” (Murakami 10). Instead of food, she is instead ingesting the book she is reading by “biting off and chewing one line at a time” (10). Mari is at the restaurant for companionship with her book, not for any particular food reason, unlike Takahashi. In fact, the only reason he is there is that “the only thing worth eating at Denny’s is the chicken salad” (14). Despite his professed hunger, he dwells over his meal by chatting at (not really with) Mari. Takahashi loves food, surely; but he also loves conversation. He even goes so far as to compare himself with food in that he’s “more of a side-dish – cole slaw or French fries” (19). Kaoru herself sticks to beer and peanuts; she does not require food to be a starting point for conversation, but nor is she avoiding it, as Mari is. The only other thing she ingests is cigarette smoke, which Mari admits “looks much more natural” (64).
Takahashi’s motto “walk slowly; drink lots of water” (146) could probably be applied to him, Mari, and Kaoru – as well as us as readers! Mari may be right about growth hormones in chicken, or mercury in tuna – but I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t craving chicken salad and toast after I was done with After Dark.
One of the things I found most interesting while reading was how After Dark seems to highlight many aspects of the environment that seem generic. The way that Haruki Murakami describes many of the settings makes them seem unoriginal and like they could exist anywhere they were constructed. There is a great deal that describes the man-made aspects of the environment, which leaves it feeling somewhat cold and impersonal.
One of the earliest and most clear representations of this is the scene in Denny’s. Although this is a scene that depicts Mari first interacting with others and begins the reader’s interest in the real aspects of the story. However, instead of this taking place in a personal or original space, it occurs in one of the most generic settings that one can think of. In fact, while describing this scene the author even writes, “Everything about the restaurant is anonymous and interchangeable. And almost every seat is filled” (Murakami 5). The way that Murakami points out the impersonal being one of the most popular settings is very unique.
In this day and age its difficult to find many places that aren’t created to be exactly like Denny’s: impersonal, anonymous, and interchangeable. Almost anywhere one goes to eat, buy food, get clothing, is a part of a larger chain that dictates it be identical to every other store of its kind. However, these are also the places that personal interactions occur every day, and Murakami does an excellent job of highlighting how much of every person’s life is played out in a setting that could not be more generic.