“After Dark” Explores Boundaries Between Dream and Reality in the Night Time

Our biological clocks are internally set to where once the sun goes down, we allow the night to be the time for slumber. However, that’s not the case for all individuals. For some people, the night time means it’s time to hit up clubs and bars. For others, it may mean striving to stay awake while taking care of work during after hours. But in the case of Haruki Murakami’s “After Dark,” the night time brings strangers together and connect, a time to escape (whether literally or figuratively), and a time where the boundaries between dream and reality are not as strictly set.

Originally published in Japan in 2004 and released in English in 2007, “After Dark” follows Mari Asai, a 19-year-old college student, who is first seen reading a rather thick book at a Denny’s, just as the clock strikes midnight. It’s when Tetsuya Takahashi, another student and trombone player who previously was interested in Mari’s older sister Eri, enters the scene that things take a turn for what eventually becomes an interesting night.

Later, Mari crosses paths with a retired wrestler named Kaoru who manages a love hotel, and is in need of Mari’s bilingual abilities in translating for a Chinese prostitute who was beaten up in one of the rooms there. From there, it’s all in the matters of tracking down the perpetrator who did this to the prostitute, and in which case involves getting the Chinese mafia involved.

All the while and in between time, the story checks in on Eri Asai, whose been heavily sleeping for the past two months, and is caught in this supernatural happening with a faceless man watching over her. Also, the story follows the man who had beaten up the prostitute and how he is handling himself within the hours after doing so.

This was my second time reading Murakami’s “After Dark.” The first time I read it was earlier in the year. It was the third book I have ever read by him, and it was during an ongoing streak at the time of reading nothing but Murakami novels. However, out of all the ones I’ve read by him, this one was one of the ones that stuck out to me the most. After having read it again slowly and carefully, I now know why.

Like many of his other novels, alienation plays an evidently prominent theme in “After Dark.” While it may be most obvious in the character of Mari, the same can go for Tetsuya, Eri, and other characters too. While they all grapple with the subject in their own ways and have their own perspectives on the matter, I don’t think any of them can ever admit to being lonely. Instead, they’ve embraced their oneness and have used it to their advantage on how they take on the world.

Also like many of Murakami’s other works, magical realism is incorporated cleverly yet distinctively into the plot. While it’s most heavily evident in the room where Eri lays sleeping, there are other instances where it pops up as well. For instance, there’s a moment where Mari admits to not recognizing her own voice. Night is an elusive, mysterious part of a 24-hour spectrum, and these almost unreal moments seem to suggest that there’s no limit to what can be deemed “real” or from a dream.

It’s wisest to say that “After Dark” is not for passive readers. Like many of Murakami’s other novels, some things are left unexplained; some things are without a supposed “proper” resolution or purpose to. While that can be considered frustrating, it can also be best seen as an open approach, for it’s a good opportunity for readers to decide on what it- whatever “it” may be- all means.

The night may be assumed as the best time for hiding when shadow takes all. However, as “After Dark” explores, it can be a time of day when one is most open.

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