By Zack Davisson
69 by Ryu Murakami
Kodansha International, ISBN 4-7700-3013-4
Kensuke Yazaki didn’t get his first real six-string at the 5 and Dime, but he knows a little something about being young and restless in the Summer of 69. He’s the drummer for a garage band, rocking the latest Stones and Cream although they’ve never had a gig. He can drop Rimbaud quotes and hook you up with counter-culture literature, although he’s never actually read any. He would totally smoke pot if he knew how to get some, and he would join in the Free Love movement if any girl would let him. But he’s just a small town boy with city dreams, and he’s about to do something really, really stupid. Like barricade the school. Or put on a rock festival. Or take a shit on the principal’s desk.
69 is the fourth Ryu Murakami book to get an English translation, and it goes against the grain of everything previously offered to foreign audiences. A far cry from the nihilistic fairytale of Coin Locker Babies or the dirty, self-destructive realism of Almost Transparent Blue, this is a light-hearted, fast-paced trip through the lazy hazy days of the summer of 1969. It’s a time of unprecedented freedom, when a guy and his good buddies could throw together a band and some student rebellion all in the hope that the prettiest girls in school might let them in on that magic secret they keep under their skirts.
Murakami shows his range with 69. He is a lot more than the dark horse of modern Japanese literature, much more than the Batman to Haruki Murakami’s Superman. Like Almost Transparent Blue, Murakami stitches his own past together with a dream of idealized youth, creating a believable world of kids giving free rein to their impulses, liberated from the controlling influence of authority. In the words of his youthful narrator: “Victory went to whoever had the most fun.” Hell yeah.