Dance Dance Dance
By Haruki Murakami
Originally Japanese Publication 1988
First US Publication 1994
Translated to English by Alfred Birnbaum
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Science Fiction, Literature
Dance Dance Dance is another hard to classify work from Haruki Murakami. It mixes noire thriller with mysterious fantasy within a literate package that makes one think. The main character is a loner who finds himself searching for a past girlfriend who has disappeared. Disturbing dreams draw him to revisit a hotel where he spent time with his missing girlfriend and he becomes convinced that it has some connection to her disappearance. However, when he arrives as the hotel, it has changed hands and been completely remodeled. But it doesn’t take long before he discovers that everything is not as it seems and he finds another world where he meets a Sheep Man who seems to have connections to his past and future. The sheep man tells him he needs to do more than just sit around and think, he needs to start moving and “Dance. Don’t think. Dance. Danceyourbest, likeyourlifedependedonit. Yougottadance.”
Dance Dance Dance is narrated in the first person by the protagonist who is a very unconventional man by Japanese standards. He has rejected the traditional salaryman life and is a self-employed writer. When asked about his job, he replies, “it’s like shoveling snow. You do it because somebody’s got to, not because it’s fun.” In the previous year, he was deeply traumatized by a series of event’s including his wife divorcing him, the mysterious death of a friend, and finally, when he thought he was falling in love again, his new girlfriend ran out on him. After 6 months of deep depression and complete isolation from society, he finally musters the will to start working again and then finds himself compelled to begin searching for his lost girlfriend which is not going to be easy considering that he doesn’t even know her name.
As the narrator begins his search, he meets a number of interesting people including an attractive hotel receptionist and a young teenager who seems to have psychic abilities and is also desperately in need of a positive adult influence since she has been virtually abandoned by her parents. Then he makes contact with an old acquaintance from school named Gotanda who has gone on to become the biggest movie star in Japan. He soon finds that Gotanda really wants to become friends as he has also recently gone through a divorce and has become just as isolated from society as the narrator because of his fame. However, when the narrator gets involved in an underground world of expensive call girls, he finds himself mixed up with a mysterious and violent murder that gains him the attention of the police. The only thing the narrator can do is to keep moving and dance, dance, dance as he desperately tries to find the missing connections to all these events.
As usual with Murakami’s writing, all the characters are very well drawn, quirky, and interesting. People who have felt like an outsider or have experienced major losses causing depression will identify with the main character. As the narrator begins making new connections with a few people, he finds his life becoming much more meaningful and this seems to be one of the major themes of this novel.
Murakami fills the novel with terrific descriptions that contribute to a noir atmosphere of mystery. He also mixes reality with just enough unreality to make both the narrator and reader question just what exactly is real and what is not real. He seems to point out that in order to find oneself or to find meaning in life, one must work to separate oneself from the banal aspects of traditional life and make an effort to make real connections to others.
Dance Dance Dance manages to insert deep philosophical thoughts about life, relationships, and reality with the elements of a pulp mystery thriller. This novel is highly recommended for anyone willing to mix challenging literature with a pulp noir thriller.