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.
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?
(The entire section is 3,480 words.)