55 pages • 1 hour readHaruki Murakami
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After Dark was published in 2004 by acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel follows protagonist Mari Asai through one night in Tokyo. Mari has run-ins with organized crime, people on the run, and others who do not fit into Tokyo’s often conservative society. After Dark was met with lackluster critical reception, partially due to Murakami’s characteristic ambiguity and apparent lack of an ending; however, others argue that this ambiguity allows readers to interpret events in many different ways.
This guide uses the 2008 Vintage International edition, translated by Jay Rubin.
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Content Warning: After Dark includes scenes of violent assault, threats of violence, depictions of drug use, and some sexual content.
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After Dark takes place between the hours of 11:56pm and 6:52am in Tokyo’s amusement district. In a Denny’s restaurant, 19-year-old college student Mari Asai reads a book, killing time. The trains have stopped running, and she is stuck in the area until 5am when service resumes. Tetsuya Takahashi, a university student and jazz musician, recognizes Mari. They met two years ago. Mari’s beautiful sister, Eri, was dating Takahashi’s friend; the four went on a double date. Mari and Takahashi chat as Takahashi eats. Finally, he decides it is time to go to band practice. He tells her he likes talking to her and that he will be back around 5am.
Meanwhile, Eri Asai sleeps an unnaturally deep sleep. The narration takes on the quality of a camera, implicating the reader as “we” watch her sleep. At midnight, the unplugged television turns on. Its screen reveals a man sitting in a chair.
Mari remains at Denny’s until a blonde woman named Kaoru comes looking for her. She knows Takahashi, who told her that Mari speaks Chinese. Kaoru is the manager at a local love hotel, the Alphaville, and a client has just violently assaulted a Chinese sex worker. Mari goes with her to translate.
Mari is introduced to Korogi and Komugi, employees of Alphaville. The sex worker is a 19-year-old woman named Guo Dongli. Mari feels a kind of kinship with her. Her client beat her, stole her clothes and possessions, and fled. Kaoru lets Guo call for help. Soon after, an intimidating man, presumably a Chinese gangster, arrives on a black motorcycle. Kaoru boldly asks him to pay for the client’s room. Guo leaves with the man.
Back in Eri’s room, the man on the screen becomes clearer. He wears a brown suit, and a thin mask obscures his features. The narrator dubs him the Man with No Face. He seems to be waiting.
Kaoru takes Mari to a bar to unwind after the incident. They tell each other about their pasts. Mari grew up with an inferiority complex due to always being compared to Eri. She developed an interest in Chinese when she dropped out of mainstream Japanese schooling and joined a school for Chinese-speaking youth. Kaoru used to be a professional wrestler with a sizeable following until a back injury ended her career. Kaoru offers to take Mari to the Skylark, a nearby establishment, where she will be safe to wait out the night. In the bathroom at the Skylark, Mari’s reflection remains in the mirror after she leaves.
Later, back at the Alphaville, Kaoru scours the security camera footage for a glimpse of Guo’s assailant. She is able to print a clear picture of the man from the footage. He looks like an ordinary office worker in a grey trench coat. Kaoru redials the number that Guo called and tells the man on the other line she has a picture of the assailant. The man on the black motorcycle returns, and Kaoru hands over the photo, reasonably assured that the man will avenge Guo.
The man from the photograph, Shirakawa, works late for his company, Veritech. His wife calls; he has not spent time with her recently due to his work schedule. He agrees to pick up milk from 7-Eleven. In a parallel scene, Takahashi examines the same exact milk in a 7-Eleven.
It is now after 3am. Eri is inside the screen of the television. The Man with No Face watches her intently.
Takahashi visits Mari at the Skylark on a break from band practice. Takahashi plans to give up music to focus on studying law. He met Kaoru after taking a girl to the love hotel and forgetting money. Kaoru liked him and offered him odd jobs.
The narrative camera follows Eri into the television. The Man with No Face is gone. Eri wakes up and begins to panic; she does not know where she is, and she cannot get out of the room. She finds a pencil with “VERITECH” stamped on it: Shirakawa’s pencil.
Mari and Takahashi walk to a park to feed stray cats. Takahashi tells Mari about when Eri shared many personal secrets, including that she wishes she was closer with Mari. Mari is taken aback; she’s always felt distant from her sister. Mari tells Takahashi she thinks Eri does not want to wake up. Takahashi is shocked, but Mari doesn’t want to discuss it further. They walk back to the Alphaville. Takahashi tells Mari that his mother died when he was young while his father was in prison; this left him with a pervasive feeling of being an orphan.
Shirakawa finishes his work, exercises, and washes up. His reflection remains in the bathroom mirror after he leaves. He sorts through the possessions he stole from Guo, stuffs them in a garbage bag, and calls a cab. Stopping at 7-Eleven on the way home, he ditches the bag in a trash heap, and he leaves Guo’s cell phone in the dairy refrigerator.
The narrator watches Eri trying in vain to escape from the television screen. At the same time, Shirakawa sits in his kitchen, watching a documentary, unable to sleep. In a guest room at Alphaville, Mari and Korogi are watching the same documentary. They talk about their lives. Korogi is on the run from unknown people. She suspects Eri might be running from something as well. She advises Mari to hold onto the memories that she has with Eri.
At 5am, Shirakawa still cannot sleep, but Mari has fallen into the first restful sleep she has had in a while. After band practice, Takahashi stops by 7-Eleven. He hears Guo’s phone ringing and picks it up. A man’s voice threatens to find him no matter what he does. Confused, Takahashi leaves the phone where he found it.
Takahashi meets Mari again to walk her to the station. He asks her out on a date. Mari is confused as to why anyone would like her, so Takahashi discusses her positive qualities. Mari does not turn him down, but reveals that she is going to China as an exchange student soon, and she will not be back until summer. Takahashi says he can wait, and he promises to write her a long letter. Mari consents. Before she boards her train, she tells Takahashi about the last time she felt close to Eri.
Back at home, Mari climbs into bed with Eri, who is back in her room. She begins to cry, and then falls asleep next to Eri. As the sun rises over Tokyo, Eri shows some small signs of consciousness.
By Haruki Murakami