Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami


Self-documentation. Ryu seems to carry a “pocket camera” with him. During the orgy in [6] he photographs Moko’s face sort of unexpectedly (“With a pocket camera, I took a close-up of Moko’s distorted face”) and I imagined someone doing that at a party and putting it on Facebook. In other scenes Kazuo repeatedly photographs his friends. At the outdoor concert in [14] Moko dances almost naked and “Two cameramen clicked their shutters at her.”

Self-containment/“lack of ‘other.’” The characters seem notably separate from mainstream society. They seem to not comment on mainstream society, and to withdraw from other people, in a manner almost like they’re shy. Which creates a feeling more of loneliness and self-loathing than “out-of-control behavior” or anger directed outwards. There doesn’t seem to be any critique of society, but mostly only of existence, or of self, or of seemingly nothing, in this book. The characters sometimes mention other lifestyles—either in the past or an imagined future—with equal consideration, or legitimacy, as the characters’ current lifestyles.

Dialogue. Sometimes within quotation marks, sometimes not. Doesn’t seem to indicate anything other than perhaps clarity or amount of attention with which the narrator is hearing or saying it. Changed within chapters sometimes. It always seemed clear to me who was speaking. Things people say are often unacknowledged, except by Ryu, in his narration. Direct questions are sometimes unanswered.

Subculture. Due to the tone and prose style—and their consistency—the conventionally “shocking” aspects of the book seemed almost “quirky” to me. I felt the same things (approval, amusement, interest) I would feel, to some degree, if I were reading about any subculture—for example professional Scrabble players, people that travel alone to Alaska, or people who are Juggalos—that has developed “inwardly” into something self-contained, due to a dissatisfaction or tested inability to “be normal.”

Failing relationships. The book portrays two failing relationships, each with its own plotline, I feel. Reiko & Okinawa have plans to get married (revealed in dialogue in [2]). Their relationship seems to conclude, in terms of the book, in [17], with Reiko berating Okinawa, who seems indifferent and says “So do what you want.” Kei & Yoshiyama have plans to go to Hawaii together. In [4] Kei says “Ah don’t care if we break up, ya might not like it but Ah’d be O.K.” Later in [4] Yoshiyama says to Ryu that they sleep separate every night. Their relationship seems to conclude, in terms of the book, also in [17], with Kei completely ignoring Yoshiyama, who after beating her and attempting suicide is now sometimes sort of calmly attempting to talk to her again, in Ryu’s apartment.

Birds. Mentioned throughout. The focal point of Ryu’s incoherence at the end of [19] seems to be “black birds,” which are first mentioned by Green Eyes, who in [10] says to Ryu “You’ll get to see the black bird sometime, too, you haven’t seen it yet, but you, you’ll be able to see the bird, you’ve got them kind of eyes, same as me.” Then grips Ryu’s hand.

Insects. Focused on throughout. Round beetles, cockroaches, moths. Ryu describes in [1] having killed a roach crawling on a paint palette and seeing “bright fresh purple” juice and that “Since there’d been no purple paint on the palette, I thought red and blue must have mixed together in that little belly.” In [18] he squashes “the belly of a moth with black and white stripes” on the back cover of a collection of poetry by Mallarmé. Seems to be a focus incidentally, in that Ryu seems focused on small details, for example at the end of [11] he tosses away his lighted cigarette and “it made a little noise and went out before it reached the ground.”

Vomiting. Someone vomits, on average, maybe every two pages, in an almost “offhand” manner. Ryu seems sensitive to smells, in terms of vomiting. In [6] he “[dashes] to the toilet and [throws] up” after an “odd smell” comes from Moko’s body. In [15] he relates (to the reader) that “Last night when I’d reached my room, I’d smelled the pineapple and thrown up violently.”

Race. All, or most, I think, of the Americans on the air force base near Ryu’s apartment are black. In [14] Ryu says “…when there’re blacks around it’s cool, because they’re really something else, blowing grass and pouring vodka and then while they’re stone playing the best kind of sax, you know, really something else.” The word “nigger,” translated from something in Japanese, occurs maybe five times in the book, as spoken by Moko and Yoshiyama and, once, Ryu, who in [4] says “And listen, Moko, you’ve got to stop saying nigger, they’ll kill you, they can understand that much Japanese.”

Violent impulse discussion. At the end of [4] Ryu and Yoshiyama go outside to vomit. As they’re walking back inside, after vomiting, Yoshiyama says that when he is vomiting fully, and “can hardly stay on my feet and [can’t] see good” is the only time he “really want[s] a woman.” He says “Well, even if there was one around, I couldn’t get it up and it’d be too much trouble to open her legs, but anyway I still want a woman. Not in my prick or in my head, but my whole body, all of me, is just squirming for it. How about you? Do you get what I mean?” Ryu says “Yeah, you want to kill her, rather than fuck her?” Yoshiyama says “That’s it, that’s it” and some other things. The discussion surprised me and I think made me have a different, closer, more emotional connection with the book’s characters and author because I feel that usually in books containing violence the author seems to either vaguely distance him or herself from the characters or withhold commentary completely. Here I felt like the characters’ violent impulses, or thoughts, were less “destructive” and “evil,” or “unexplainable,” than “desperate” and emotional, in the same manner a character might feel like killing themselves or satisfying any indefinite desire. The man wants a woman in the abstract, and if the woman is still alive, still exists, she is concrete and can go against what the man exactly wants. But in the abstract the woman can be exactly what the man wants. I feel like “a woman” in this can accurately be replaced with “oneself” or maybe anything.

Drugs used or mentioned. Nibrole, heroin, whiskey, brandy, gin, wine, vodka, morphine, Philopon (a methamphetamine), hashish, mescaline, acid, glue, Hyminal, marijuana.

Cultural/brand references. The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Billie Holiday (spelled in book as “Billy Holiday”), “A Certain Smile,” “Sticky Fingers” (“…this is the latest Rolling Stones, ya haven’t heard it, have yau It’s ‘Sticky fingers’), Mal Waldron, Osibasa, James Brown, Charlie Mingus, Jim Morrison, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Osibisa, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Boz, “Me and Bobby Magee,” “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Naniwabushi (a genre of traditional Japanese narrative singing), Van Gogh, Elia Kazan, Stéphane Mallarmé, The Charterhouse of Parma, Jean Genet (“Like the splendid men of Genet’s novels…”), Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Woodstock, Calpis (uncarbonated soft drink), Coca-Cola (“…she drank a coke…”), Kool (brand of cigarette), Max Factor, Revlon, Kanebo, Dior, Muramatsu (“a kind of flute”).


More From Thought Catalog

  • JamesFranco'sEgo

    long story bro

    • tao


  • shoehorn

    “Sometimes I felt encouraged to continue by a feeling that I now felt more excited to write fiction, and that if I read an essay like this by someone else, on the internet, I might also feel more excited to write fiction.”
    i think you accomplished your goal.

    • tao


  • Michael Koh

    “I could see into the kitchen from where I sat.”

    There is something about this phrase that I think is genius.

  • Interested

    Brilliant article.

    I would love to know more about “The Back You Want To Kick” by Risa Wataya

    • tao

      i think it isn't translated to english

  • Nunsypher

    I can't wait to read your next novel. Read Philip Roth too :)

    • tao

      my next novel


    • Jonny Ross

      philip roth

  • Morgan

    I've never read “Almost Transparent Blue” so I only wanted to read parts of this. Now I want to go read the book so I can finish this essay.

    • tao


      i can mail you my copy for $5 paypal

      • Morgan

        That's a good deal. Will you sign it?

  • mario

    takashi murakami.

    • tao

      ryu murakami's goodreads 'bio':

      'Ryū Murakami is a Japanese novelist and filmmaker. He is not related to Haruki Murakami or Takashi Murakami.'


  • David Fishkind

    nibrole seems so sweet

    • tao

      chewy ass nibroles

  • kdub

    this is extremely interesting and i'm probably going to read it again later. slowly.

    • tao

      sweet sweet

  • BK

    I love this. absolutely.

    • tao



  • megan boyle

    “I think that scene is 'touching' to me because—by seeming to have no purpose except to non-rhetorically relate what seems, to me, like a memory—it promotes, or is evidence, to me, that a single specific experience that doesn’t cost anything, and has no effect on anyone that isn’t involved, and that doesn’t have to be known by anyone else can be 'worth more' to a person than years of comfort or love or accomplishment or millions of dollars or the respect and admiration of thousands. That a single person, or two people, using only themselves and each other, can easily create an intense, unrecorded, unshared memory that is more emotional, memorable, and affecting than winning the lottery or getting a masters degree or even 'falling in love,' maybe, seems 'beautiful' and exciting and affecting to me. I think I’ve had experiences like this even when alone, and even when feeling conventionally 'negative' feelings, like being very lonely or feeling extremely desperate. These moments—rather than 'accomplishments' or other hierarchal activities, or even some form of long-lasting comfort or calmness, or something—seem to be what I 'want' most, if I want anything, in life, based on what I know currently. When I’m aware of this, and believe it, to a certain degree, I feel calm, I think.”

    me too…

    good job

    viral ass transparent blue

    • tao

      good job changing ” to '


      • Brian McElmurry

        I liked this part too. Seems transcending.

  • Jordan

    i felt inspired to change, i think, or 'remembered,' rather, a 'calmer, more [something] “version of myself”' that i seem to only be able to concretely associate with 'working on things in the library' or 'being alone in my bedroom working on things in a voluntary, “camly excited” manner,' that i have maybe not experienced in the past few days, after reading this essay

    i enjoyed reading your 'slimmed down' version of his conversation with 'okinawa'

    i felt excited about the possibility of participating in an orgy, i think, or excited, possibly, about something else, while reading your summary of the orgy in the book

    good job bro

    • tao

      seems like i imagine you in an orgy 'wandering around' with a 'glassy' eyeballs…sort of with a somewhat 'tense' neck/head area…slowly moving around, walking, almost with tears on your eyeballs

  • christopher lynsey


    • tao


  • Hilson

    i am pretty excited to read this, i wrote my senior work on this book a couple years ago.

    is there anyway you can put it together in a printable format. i want to read off the computer screen, on paper, at a place convenient to me such as my desk or toilet.

    • tao

      if you email me at binky.tabby [at] i can email you it in one i think

      maybe i can add a page 9 that has everything

  • kelly huckaby

    about 3/4 through reading this for some reason i remembered being 12 years old and sitting alone at the front of the bus on the way to school, feeling very sad and lonely after having returned from visiting 40ish cousins in malaysia and trying not to cry the whole way.

    i kept thinking “if somebody tries to talk to me i'm going to tell them my cat died.”

    • tao




  • bob

    I think you got an A on this essay at nyu

    not always good but sometimes great.


  • Robertbenesh

    I'm currently reading the Japanese version of this (as a part of my dissertation) after a few reads through in English, and I certainly feel that the balance between the perspective of the narrator and the perspective of the character have changed across translations, but I was having difficulty pinning it down. Your writing on the subject was very clear and concise and helped me greatly in understanding these differences. I find it to be very strange timing that you posted this in a time when I am focusing on this work so heavily.

    • tao


      i feel interested in the difference re english/japanese, if you would like to share your thoughts

      • Robertbenesh

        It's somewhat difficult to explain without spiraling into detail, but one of the main features I found was that the character of Ryu seemed somewhat more sympathetic and caring toward Reiko, and the narrator's perspective seemed something more–to me, like a sense of loss because of a love he allowed to escape him. As if, in retrospect, he feels guilt for not attempting to build a romantic bond between him and Reiko, realizing after the event that she was much more important to him than he originally understood. There seem to be several moments like this one where the perspective of the narrator Ryu seems to indicate that he wanted to revisit this time of life through this piece of work to better understand the opportunities he missed and the experiences that still weight heavily on him. But then again I could be making all this up.

      • tao

        thanks for sharing your thoughts, i felt that the narrator was more sympathetic toward reiko than the character, and that the narrator was more sympathetic because in retrospect he felt that reiko probably liked him in a way that he didn't like her, and simply sympathized with that, maybe as a vicarious source of sympathy in whatever unrequited situation he might currently be in (maybe he views lilly as an unrequited situation currently), or something

  • Chillwave Gonzales

    Having insomnia, and am chilling with this.

    • tao

      chillwave gonzales


  • Nicholas

    just ordered a copy off amazon. awesome essay, tao! very impressed :)

    • tao

      hi nicholas


  • Faiz Khan

    “There doesn’t seem to be any critique of society, but mostly only of existence, or of self, or of seemingly nothing, in this book.”

    this sentence made me feel 'very bleak'

    • tao

      hi faiz khan


  • stephen

    I liked this a lot, Tao. I'm glad you wrote it. After reading Ryu Murakami's story in Zoetrope, I'm very interested in reading more by him. The section of your essay that Megan quoted in her comment, that section made me feel gratified and excited. Great job bro

    • tao

      hi stephen


      enjoyed reading your comment

      glad you felt gratified and excited

  • Vicky Lim

    I liked this essay, particularly the moments of doubt and encouragement expressed on page eight, which is how I feel often when writing an essay.

    • tao

      hi vicky


  • aaron nicholas

    i…uh…skipped straight to page 7

  • jejune

    thanks for writing this, i appreciated it, especially the paragraph in which you explain why you were touched by the novel.

    i was surprised that the characters listened to luiz bonfa while having an orgy.

    • tao

      i like it, seems almost 'emotional,' luiz bonfa


  • buttercup mcgillicuddy

    found the nancy andrew translation online in .pdf format and plan to read [9] upon completing the novel

    also ['in-line', i think, with my interests] found this clip of the film version

    but could not find any torrents, dvds, streaming videos, etc. and feel desperate

    i enjoyed this analysis, tao, and feel inspired to write more fiction after reading it

    based on your receptiveness to this author, and based on previous japanese literature i've read, i perceive ryu murakami as [sort of] the 'most-underground' author who writes in a form and with similar intent/interests as oe and abe, which i feel excited to now be exposed to. thanks

    • tao

      hi buttercup


      enjoyed reading your comment

      i think ryu murakami is 'really famous' in japan (re 'most-underground')

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