Title: Lala Pipo
Japanese Title: ララピポ
Author: Okuda Hideo (奥田英郎)
Translator: Marc Adler
Publication Year: 2008 (America); 2005 (Japan)
Lala Pipo is absolutely and utterly tasteless. If banality could have a nadir, Lala Pipo would be hovering somewhere just above it. Never have I read such a book that delights so much in its own complete lack of decency.
This is a good thing, obviously.
This collection of six stories starts off with the tale of a social dropout who stands on a chair to listen through the ceiling to his upstairs neighbor having sex. His biggest problem, namely, how to clean up the come that invariably winds up on his bedroom floor, is soon eclipsed by his overwhelming desire for bugging equipment from Akihabara. Everything goes downhill from there into even greater depths of depravity. I have no idea how the author manages it. I bow in awe before his mastery of the literary art form.
All levity aside, though, Lala Pipo is actually quite brilliant. As the back cover of the book tells us, its six stories are loosely connected. What it does not tell us is how. Sure, they’re all set in the same location – in the swollen and festering underbelly of Shibuya. Sure, they all end in the same way – with abrupt and heartbreaking and hilarious tragedy. And sure, they all share the same theme – laziness and poor judgment leading to bad things happening to not-so-good people. But the main connection between the stories is that an extremely minor character of one story always becomes the protagonist of the next. Although this may sound like a cheesy gimmick, it’s remarkably well played. In fact, it’s so well played that I hesitate to spoil it by describing the stories in any detail.
I must make an exception for the third story, “Light My Fire,” which stars an aging housewife whose boredom has lead her to a career in milf-themed pornography. This woman lives in a house of amazing filth and decrepitude, which she deals with by dusting cockroaches under the bedding and spraying cleaning solution up the stairs towards the second floor. Since she has grown tired of picking up after her husband, she has him sleep on the kitchen floor, where he can easily pick up after himself – or not. When she’s not forcing herself on her agent in a love hotel or idly masturbating on the sofa in front of the television, she amuses herself by reading her neighbor’s mail, which she surreptitiously opens using the steam from a tea kettle. Her neighbor starts to receive anonymous hate mail from someone who is annoyed by her dog, so she decides to play a prank on her neighbor by signing the name of her best friend to the letters. As the letters become progressively more deranged, however, even our resourceful heroine begins to harbor worries. Underneath the sordidness of stringy mucus and crusty vibrators runs a strong narrative propelled forward by several mysteries. Who is sending the letters? How long will the housewife be able to continue her career in pornography? Why is her house so filthy? What has she got up there on the second floor? Like all of the stories in this collection, “Light My Fire” is skillfully set up to draw the reader into the narrative despite the disgusting characters who people it.
Some people might dismiss Okuda’s work, filled as it is with engorged members and spoiled schoolgirls, as being blatantly misogynistic. To those people I give a gold star and a pat on the back, because yes, Okuda is openly misogynistic. He is also openly misanthropic in general, but that’s no reason to not read and enjoy Lala Pipo. Even now, almost two decades after the economic bubble burst, an outdated public discourse regarding home, family, and work is still going strong. People like sociologist Mary Brinton are still analyzing how ideas like “women need to be housewives and mothers” and “men need to find full-time employment at a company” are created and perpetuated through the education system and in the labor market. Buzzwords like “equality” and “flexibility” often emerge in organizational mission statements, but the underlying structures have yet to undergo the necessary evolution. Lala Pipo takes all of that cultural garbage and swiftly trashes it. The men in these stories are not productive and industrious. The women in these stories are not nurturing and self-sacrificing. Authority lies in the hands of the people who absolutely should not wield it, and society as a whole is portrayed as rotting solipsistically away. Okuda Hideo is a popular writer, and he’s a fun writer, but he’s dealing with some pretty heavy stuff here. If nothing else, Lala Pipo is a welcome break from the home drama and flower imagery of more “literary” Japanese writers.
To those of you who read In the Pool (translated by Giles Murray and released by Stone Bridge Press in 2006) and weren’t impressed – I wasn’t impressed either, but Lala Pipo is much, much better. To those of you who read In the Pool and thought it was awesome, Lala Pipo is more of the same but much, much better. Just so you know.