Dance Dance Dance picks up where A Wild Sheep Chase left off. The unnamed, everyman narrator is shell-shocked from the events of the previous novel and worried that he has no connection to the world except for his well-worn Subaru. He makes a comfortable living on whatever freelance writing jobs come his way, or “shovelling cultural snow” as he puts it, and spends the rest of his time doing the things that Murakami protagonists do: drinking beer, walking the streets, making simple meals and listening to music. He is, in a word, adrift.
But someone is crying out for him in the dark: his old girlfriend, Kiki, with the perfect ears, who disappeared at the end of the last novel. To pick up the thread of his life, he knows he must find her. His search takes him back to Sapporo, to the Dolphin Hotel, which sets in motion a chain of events that bring into his orbit a psychic fourteen-year-old Talking Heads fan, her world class photographer and space cadet mother, a depressive movie star who hates his dependable image, and the Sheep Man, who tells him one thing: “You gotta dance.”
Dance Dance Dance was published after Norwegian Wood, which earned Murakami such unwanted fame in Japan that he fled the country. While it is a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, it is not considered part of the Trilogy of the Rat books that made up Murakami’s first three novels, and it does not carry over any of the political and historical commentary. Instead, it is a much more inward looking, psychological book that sees the author dealing with the trappings of success.
To do this, he has retreated back to the world he is comfortable with, as if he is trying to recapture some of his youthful magic.
This time, [SPOILERS] he is much more explicit that all the characters are aspects of the narrator. “I’m just a mental echo, a figment of your imagination. A rebound to demonstrate the fullness of our conversation” the narrator says at one point. “It was you who called yourself. I’m merely a projection. You guided yourself through me. I’m your phantom dance partner. I’m your shadow. I’m not anything more”, Kiki tells him.
This is not to say that there is some kind of Fight Club like twist. Only that Murakami’s novels are sometimes like a long conversation with different aspects of himself to work through a psychological conflict. The surly, music obsessed Yuki is like a teenage version of himself. She acts as a sounding board for advice from his older, idealised self, the narrator. Her mother, Ame, represents the aloofness and callousness of talent. Movie star Gotanda expresses Murakami’s disgust with fame. Thin pseudonym Hikari Makimura his disinterest in the image of a world-famous author.
Still, the psychological exploration of the novel is not as intriguing as Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and the lack of social engagement mean that it is less layered than A Wild Sheep Chase. So while it’s enjoyable enough, it has the feel of being a being a lesser Murakami novel, a final farewell to a familiar style.