After Dark is set in the entertainment district of Tokyo, a place of all-night diners, cafes, bars, and (according to this novel) at least one so-called love motel—a place where people can rent a room by the hour to have sex.

The story starts a few minutes before midnight and ends as the sun is rising, right before 7:00 AM. It is the darkness of this setting that gives the story its intrigue, as it is often insinuated that this is the time that gangs lurk in the shadows, when women are not safe on the street, and when a social psychopath can get away with a brutal beating. Although these same things could be said about normal daylight, the dark setting provides menacing shadows that add more tension.

In these late hours, order is thrown out the window as respectable people sleep and the others roam the street and mothers and fathers and policemen look the other way. It is also a time of relative silence and solitude, when young people can talk in a park without anyone hearing them. And of course, it is a time when people dream, a special topic for Murakami to explore.

The story opens in an all-night Denny’s, sterile and plastic. In placing an American restaurant in the Japanese city, the author demonstrates the Westernization of his culture, another of his favorite topics. Tokyo could be any major city, the narrator implies. There is nothing that he mentions in the story that is specifically Japanese except for the names of the outlying towns that are mentioned. Mari meets Takahashi at the Denny’s. It is an accidental encounter, but one that Takahashi pursues.

Alphaville is the name of the love hotel. In one of the hotel rooms, a young Chinese girl is beaten. Alphaville is where some young people go to make love, but more often it is a place where prostitutes arrange to meet their customers. Sometimes these young girls get more than they expect. This is also where Mari meets Kaoru, the manager of the hotel, and her two assistants, Komugi and Korogi. All three of these women seem to be hiding from something. Alphaville and other love hotels like it give them temporary refuge.

Another setting that the story returns to is Mari’s home, specifically her sister’s bedroom. It is here that Eri sleeps and has been sleeping for months. In a surrealist scene, the narrator watches as Eri slips through the television screen and ends up in what is hinted as being Shirakawa’s office. Shirakawa is the man who beats up the prostitute. Although Eri’s need to sleep so long is never explained, at one point Mari wonders if her sister was raped. The story ends without making sense of Eri’s and Shirakawa’s connection.

After Dark Ideas for Group Discussions

1. What clues are provided in Murakami’s novel After Dark that might help you to speculate on why Eri is sleeping so long?

2. How would you describe Mari and Eri’s relationship? Do you think it has changed by the end of the story? What are the differences?

3. What is Takahashi’s attraction to Mari? Does he just want to learn more about Eri or does it develop beyond that?

4. Given his family background, do you think Takahashi might be a good friend for Mari?

5. Why do you think Mari is so aloof with Takahashi? Do you think she doesn’t care about his attention or do you think she is just shy?

6. How would you describe Kaoru physically, emotionally, and morally? Would she be someone you would like to talk to? Why or why not? Do you think she did the right thing in dealing with the Chinese girl? Would you describe her as being courageous in the way she dealt with the man on the motorcycle?

7. What do you think about Takahashi’s giving up playing the trombone? If you were his friend, would you have encouraged him to keep practicing or would you have told him it was a waste of time?

8. What did you think about Takahashi’s story about the three brothers and how they settled on certain locations on the mountain? Which of the three brothers do you relate to? What bearing did this story have on what was happening in the novel?

9. What was the significance of the Chinese girl’s cell phone? Why do you think the author had two of the characters, Takahashi and the store clerk, answer the phone?  How did the words of phone caller affect each man? Why do you think the author had those two men answer the phone rather than Shirakawa, the man who stole it?

10. Was there any meaning in watching Eri sleep and seeing her drift into the room inside the television that correlated to the rest of the story? What do you think Murakami was trying to say with this scene? Do you think the Man with No Face in that scene was Shirakawa? What do you think this might imply?

After Dark Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Read any of Murakami’s other novels and compare it with After Dark. Look for similar themes such as loneliness, isolation, and loss. Does Murakami also include surrealist scenes such as Eri’s dream? How does Murakami treat Japanese culture? Does he discuss anything that is specifically Japanese or does he make the culture look similar to Western ones? Write up a report, which includes a summation of the other novel’s plot, setting, themes, and characters, demonstrating how the two novels compare or contrast, and turn it in to your teacher.

2. Research statistics about prostitutes in Japan. Are most prostitutes from other countries? Do Japanese people consider geishas prostitutes? If not, what is the difference? Include information about Japanese women that the Japanese government sent to the war front during World War II. What is their story? Also include Japanese women who came to California and worked as prostitutes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Did they come voluntarily or were they more like the young Chinese girl in this novel? Report your findings to your class.

3. Pinpoint the entertainment center of Tokyo as described in this novel. Where exactly is it located? What does it look like? Who would typically be spending the late hours in this location? Use a map of Tokyo to mark the area. Also include a description of other prominent areas in that city. Then give a presentation to your class to make them more familiar with what Tokyo is like.

4. Murakami is often criticized by his fellow Japanese writers. Find out why. Who are these Japanese authors? What do they say about him? How does their writing differ? What do other Japanese scholars say about Murakami’s works? What about U.S. scholars? Do opinions of those outside of Japan differ? Write up a detailed report and hand it in to your teacher.

After Dark Related Titles / Adaptations

If you want to read at least one other novel of Murakami’s, you might want to choose between some of what critics call his best. These would be his 1997 classic, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a long but well-crafted story about a man who loses his wife; his 2000 publication, Norwegian Wood, a coming-of-age story; and his 2005 award-winning book, Kafka on the Shore, which has two very different characters running away and simultaneously running toward one another—if not in reality at least on a metaphysical level.

Natsuo Kirino might be the female equivalent of Murakami. She is fast becoming as popular as he is and her topics are contemporary Japanese culture. In her novel Grotesque (2007), she tells the story of two murders, both of prostitutes. Her characters are described as twisted and her stories as somewhat vague but intriguing.

Award-winning Asa Nonami has received great reviews for her 1996 publication The Hunter about a female police officer, a rarity in Japan. Nonami is very popular in Japan, almost to superstar status, especially for her detective novels. Critics say this is one of her best.

Kenzaburo Oe is one of Japan’s more classic authors, although he was considered modern when he started writing in the middle of the twentieth century. For a taste of his writing, try Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1969), a collection of four short novels.

Woman in the Dunes (1962) by Kobo Abe is a myth-like fable about a man who is entrapped in a village that builds houses in sand dunes and must spend their lives keeping the sand out. Abe is a masterful writer, and this novel gives you another view of a creative Japanese mind.

Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. His classic novel Snow Country (1957) provides a look at the beauty of language and image on which earlier Japanese authors prided themselves.

After Dark

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Haruki Murakami writes two types of novels: expansive works, such as Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru (1994-1995; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1997) and Umibe no Kafuka (2002; Kafka on the Shore, 2005), crammed with metaphors about contemporary life, and smaller-scale looks, such as Noruwei no mori (1987; Norwegian Wood, 2000) and Sup toniku no koibito (1999; Sputnik Sweetheart, 2001), at more mundane though quirky existences. After Dark falls into the latter category, presenting the interactions among a small group of people over seven hours of a Tokyo night.

At 11:56 p.m., Mari Asai, a student in Chinese at the...

(The entire section is 1677 words.)

After Dark Bibliography

Bowie, Chas. 2007. “Review of After Dark.” In Portland Mercury, June 28–July 4, Vol. 8, No. 5, p. 38. Bowie is a critic who praises Murakami but is disappointed by this novel.

Brett, William. 2007. “Children of the Night.” London Spectator, June 16, p. 208. This is a critical review that praises the author for his well-honed skills as a writer.

Champion, Edward. 2007. “Creatures of the Night.” Los Angeles Times, May 13, p. R10. This is a positive review and an exploration into some of the symbolism in this novel.

Dirda, Michael. 2007. “A Surreal Novel of Suspense from One of Japan’s Most Exciting Writers.” Washington Post, May 20, p. T10. This is...

(The entire section is 292 words.)

After Dark Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 103, no. 13 (March 1, 2007): 39.

The Economist 383 (May 19, 2007): 89.

Elle 22, no. 9 (May, 2007): 174.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 6 (March 15, 2007): 248.

Library Journal 132, no. 8 (May 1, 2007): 73.

New Statesman 136 (June 4, 2007): 58.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (June 10, 2007): 22.

The Spectator 304 (June 16, 2007): 51-52.

The Times Literary Supplement, June 8, 2007, p. 21.

The Wall Street Journal 249, no. 104 (May 4, 2007): W3.

(The entire section is 44 words.)