After Dark by Haruki Murakami is a unique narrative which offers insight into the interior and exterior personality traits of a medley of different characters, all drawn together during the “witching hours” between midnight and early morning. The variances between characters was the most intriguing aspect of the work. Rather between the two main characters, sisters Eri and Mari, the contrast drawn is striking and though-provoking. By utilizing the “we” pluralistic form of narrative, Murakami invokes a collective ideal, reminiscent of a camera recording minute details in these many characters’ lives.
By engaging this omniscient, pluralistic narrative, Murakami adds a sense of detachment while simultaneously remaining permeatingly intimate. In this style, it is difficult to determine if there is a central protagonist. By administering this narration technique, each of the many characters is given due service for the events that they are currently experiencing. Additionally, by invoking this style, the plenitude of characters are similarly united despite their differences. By encompassing this style, Murakami is suggesting that although people are inherently different, there is a bond which connects them all; the bond of humanity. I think that this is a main thematic element of the text which is only strengthened by the choice to narrate the text in a pluralistic format. The relationship between Mari and Eri exemplifies this thematic element. The importance of attachment and human-to-human connection is vital to this narrative and is shown both implicitly and explicitly. “The important thing is that during that whole time in the dark, Eri was holding me. And it wasn’t just some ordinary hug. She squeezed me so hard our two bodies felt as if they were melting into one. She never loosened her grip for a second. It felt as though if we separated the slightest bit, we would never see each other in this world again” (Murakami 180).
In Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, the relationship between darkness and young girls is presented as a contradiction. Though people of both genders and all ages roam the streets past dark, it is blatantly obvious that it is much safer for boys or older men than it is for women. This is something most young girls will be told over and over as they grow up: “Try your best to not leave your house past dark, and if you must then don’t go alone.” Even then, this rule is not applied to all young girls; only “respectable” (70) ones.
After the prostitute was taken away by the man on the motorcycle, Kaoru asks Mari, the way Takahashi had done so earlier in the story, if her reason for staying out so late had to do with a quarrel with her family. However, this is a question Takahashi is never asked, because no matter his reason for being out so late, whatever lurks in the darkness will not hurt him. In fact, Takahashi is able to wander aimlessly as he simply “chooses and direction and begins walking” (105), unconcerned with what awaits in his path.
The significance of being a “respectable girl” is directly reflected when Mari and the prostitute communicate. The prostitute is nineteen years old, the same age as Mari, but has been taken up by men in the night to sell her body in exchange for shelter. Mari always retains her name while the prostitute – even after her name is known – is still referred to as “the prostitute” (56). Prostitutes, no matter their age, are expected on the streets, but not “respectable girls”. Mari knows this, and carries a varsity jacket and cap that makes her look “like a boy – which is probably why she always has it with her.” (65)
For some girls in the story, this lesson has reached them too late. That does not, however, take from the many moments in which Murakami stresses the opposing relationship between young girls and darkness. In fact, using young women who are not exactly “respectable’” gives the reader a clearer understanding of what is meant by it, and what sort of young girls should maintain abstinence from what the world becomes past sun-down.
Murakami conveys her opposition toward commercialism in After Dark with her portrayal of Eri Asai, and her fall into a dark, lonely, and entrapping alternative universe. The room Eri gets sucked into acts as a symbol for her own inner turmoil as an objectified young woman, victimized by the shallow institution of commercialism. The grim narrative elucidates Murakami’s disdain for the industry and its effect on women.
When Eri awakes in this alternate universe, she immediately “verifies that she is her usual self: a beautiful face and well-shaped breasts. I’m a lump of flesh, a commercial asset” (Murakami 110). This indicates how sadly conscious Eri is of what defines who she is: these transitory and superficial traits. One of the most indicative statements of Eri’s desolation comes from Meri when she says “Pills and fortune telling and dieting: nobody can stop her when it comes to any of those things” (Murakami 119). Her drug abuse and obsession with fortune-telling indicates how damaged Eri is, and how she is trying desperately to fill a void. How she seeks to fill this void is how countless young women try to, by becoming these glossy photographs that have the power to draw in masses, an obsession which serves as the foundation for commercialism. What commercialism cannot seem to sell to these young women is depth. When Eri is first seen in the novel, her room is described to have only a few things, including large magazines, and “as the room’s only decorative touch, five photographs in small frames are lined up on a shelf, all of them photos of Eri Asai. She is is alone in all of them” (Murakami 26). This immediately implies that she is superficial and self-centered. When Eri is sleeping, she is described to be completely beautiful and motionless, as if she were a mannequin. Eri’s vacuity is clear from the fact that she is never given a voice in the novel except for when she is in the alternative universe, and instead she is only talked about and talked for.
Just as how a television has sucked Eri in, media continuously sucks young girls into living a vacuous lifestyle for their capital gain. With her Prada bag, magazine shoots, and “natural radiance”, it is clear that Eri is beautiful, glamourous, and loved in this reality, but in the alternative reality that functions as her inner turmoil, she is alone in this inescapable realm of commercialism (Murakami 194). From this vindictive symbolism, Murakami presents her abhorrece for an industry that manipulates young women for financial gain, as well as its influence on society to alienate bright women like Meri.
Reading After Dark, what I found most striking was the perspective through which we are given the story. It is almost like a third-person point of view in that we as readers are removed physically from the actions of the characters, but far more inclusive in that the reader is directly addressed by the author and invited to be a direct witness into the action. Sometimes this is as an imperceptible person, not interacting with the characters, yet beside them as the story progresses: “We are inside a Denny’s.[…] After a quick survey of the interior, our eyes come to rest on a girl sitting by the front window. Why her? Why not someone else? Hard to say. But, for some reason, she attracts our attention – very naturally.” (Murakami 5). Sometimes this is as a camera: “Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At that moment the camera is situated directly above the bed and focused on her sleeping face.” (Murakami 30). Other times it shifts back directly to a purely third-person point of view, with seemingly no conscious knowledge of the reader.
What is perhaps most striking of the shifting viewpoints to me is that the camera-esque viewpoint appears only in scenes of Eri Asai. Perhaps this is because she is a model, and so most of the world sees her through the lens of a camera. Even she appears to only see herself that way – the only pictures she has in her room are of professional pictures of herself modeling. There are none with family or friends, nothing to suggest she really exists outside of the camera. Even her room is rather bare: “This is by no means a highly decorated room. Neither is it a room that suggests the tastes or individuality of its occupant. Without detailed observation, it would be hard to tell that this was the room of a young girl.” (Murakami 32). When she is observed, it is through a camera through the television.
The other characters, however, are followed in the story via a more involved viewpoint – either that of the invisible observer or the classic third-person view. This may be because, unlike Eri, they are more connected with the world – they interact with each other and do not wall themselves off from the rest of society.
When reading Murakami’s After Dark I was intrigued by how he plays with light and dark and estrangement. It seems that both the darkness and the daylight have contradicting effects on the characters in the book. On the one hand we see that the lives of very different characters (college girl, trombone player, former wrestler en hotel manager, Chinese prostitute and computer expert) get intertwined during the dark hours of the night. However, when the daylight dawns Murakami through his helicopter view also stresses how patterns of human beings become the same.
When zooming in on the main character we see at first a very ordinary 19-year old college girl sitting in a Denny’s; nothing special or noteworthy about her. Her clothes and appearance are ordinary, maybe even to be called dull and plain. However, Murakami puts her at the center of the attention makes her an intriguing character to the reader going through intense experiences. While her gorgeous sister is a sleep, Mari is awake and goes through her own nightmare – that of being the ugly little sister of of Eri, the model- and of others – the beat up Chinese prostitute who she’s translating-. But it seems to be a healing experience for her. As Murakami closes of with “Could she be dreaming? or is the hint of a smile on her lips the trace of a memory? […] Mari has made her way through the long hours of darkness, traded many words with the night people she encountered there, and come back to where she belongs”. Murakami seems to say that going through the darkness has changed her, has helped her dealing with her problems.
This story made me think of the Biblical parable of the prodigal son. Mari just as the prodigal son went away from home to face the world by her self. And finally they both come back and in both cases the experienced has changed them.