An Introduction to Haruki Murakami's After Dark
The events in After Dark occur in a single night. The story begins just before midnight and ends at sunrise. The story begins in a Denny’s restaurant in an entertainment district in downtown Tokyo, Japan. The mood is one of wary expectation (concerned watchfulness) as readers take the perspective of a bird flying over the city.
Another setting is the home of the central character (Mari), especially her sister's bedroom.
Yet another setting is a "love hotel" (a place where rooms are rented to couples by the hour.)
At the beginning of the story, Mari Esai, a college student, is sitting at the front window by herself, reading a textbook. She is waiting for daylight hours to take the train back home. An amateur jazz trombonist named Takahashi soon enters the restaurant and sits down with Mari. Takahashi knows Mari's older sister, Eri.
Mari Esai is a 19-year-old college student who is quiet, shy, and “different.” Mari is fluent in Chinese and Japanese.
Tetsuya Takahashi is a long-haired, talkative, trombone player who has met Mari before and he knows her older sister Eri. Takahashi gets Mari involved in other people's lives.
Eri Esai is Mari's older sister. Eri was an out-going, social girl, “a real beauty,” and a fashion model. Her life and Mari's have gone in different directions. Eri has been taking too many medications and has been asleep for months, apparently avoiding her life. Something very unusual is happening in Eri's bedroom. In her room, there is an unplugged television which shows a room in which a man wearing a cellophane mask sits.
The Man with No Face is a man in a brown suit. He wears a mask and exists inside a television in Eri's room. He watches her. (Later in the story, clues are given that the man with no face might be Shirakawa, a man who attacks women.)
Kaoru is a large woman with spiky, bleached hair who meets Mari because Takahashi has told the older woman that Mari speaks fluent Chinese. Kaoru needs a Chinese speaker to deal with a problem at a “love hotel” (named Alphaville) she manages.
Shirakawa is an emotionally detached man who beats up a prostitute at the "love hotel." He works for a computer company named Veritech. He likes to work alone at night. He does not look like the kind of man who would buy a Chinese prostitute in a "love hotel," nor does he look like he would beat a woman. He is dresses well, listens to classical music, is married, and has children.
Komugi is an assistant to Kaoru at Alphaville.
Korogi is another assistant Kaoru at Alphaville. She is a runaway who is afraid to use her real name.
Guo Dongh is a Chinese prostitute who is in Japan illegally. She is controlled by her pimp and is beaten by Shirakawa.
The Chinese pimp is an arrogant, motorcycle-riding member of a vicious Chinese gang.
Murakami, the author, shows the real world, the dream world, and the world between the two. Each chapter begins with an image of a clock showing the passage of time throughout the night. The novel has short chapters which go back and forth between Mari’s interactions with new acquaintances (the real world) and poetic descriptions of her beautiful sister who lies in bed in a room next to a TV screen on which her image occasionally appears and into which her soul is being taken (the subconscious world).
Murakami, in this work, shows how people can sometimes be whole individuals separated from society while at other times they can be parts of a social whole. Also, he shows how an individual's conscious and subconscious worlds conflict with one another. He shows that a person's subconscious is wild like a dark night. Murakami's characters wonder what the purpose of life is and they struggle, sometimes alone and sometimes with others, to find a way through life.
Additionally, Murakami shows what city life at night is like. He shows how different social groups interact with each other. Women often are prey and men are predators. They live in the wilderness caused by the dark of night. Civilization's electric lights, police forces, and services which remain open at night try to keep wildness under control until the morning light can bring productive work, peace, and order. Murakami uses both normal and extraordinary events to show how little control people have over their lives.