Readers of Roger Ebert’s reviews columns will probably remember his discussions of the “hyperlink genre”, a variety of movie where multiple plot threads intertwine, overlap, lead into and out of each other, and sometimes strap on crash helmets and collide. Two Days in the Valley, Traffic, Syriana, Babel and (in my opinion the vastly overrated) Crash typically get tagged with this label.
I don’t think Hideo Okuda was consciously paying homage to any of these movies when he wrote Lala Pipo, but I suspect few people are going to make that connection anyway if they read it. They’re going to be laughing too hard, and gaping at how many boundaries of taste are cheerfully violated, to make any connections. I read most of the book while sitting on my bed with my cats nearby, and kept scaring the poor beasts half to death with my guffawing. You laugh at the book, and then you laugh at yourself for having laughed at it in the first place.
Each chapter sports a title copped from a popular song that serves as gloriously ironic commentary on the goings-on. And right from the title of opening segment, “What A Fool Believes,” you know you’re not going to be in the company of winners, just sinners and beginners. The “fool” of the first chapter is Hiroshi, a hapless and reclusive freelance writer sinking into the morass of his own insularity. Then one night he hears the sounds of lovemaking in the apartment above him, and discovers the dubious joys of sexual voyeurism. “Dubious” because at the same time he starts engaging in a flirtation with a fat, homely woman named Sayuri, and discovers he’d really rather experience his human contact secondhand.
“Get Up, Stand Up” switches to the story of the man upstairs, Kenji, a talent scout on the prowl for new talent to work in one of Tokyo’s countless hostess clubs. Then he gets progressively involved in a scheme to book a pair of porn actresses for a mother-daughter act, and the whole thing spirals helplessly out of control. The mother in question, Yoshie, is the centerpiece of “Light My Fire”: at the age of forty-three, unemployed and with no real life to speak of, working in porn seems like a step up for her. Then we find out just how badly things are messed up in her household, like the way she’s been intercepting and forging signatures on hate mail sent to someone else in the neighborhood, and the thing upstairs that’s … well, I wouldn’t dream of giving away that part.
With “Gimme Shelter” we switch to the original author of the threatening notes, a meek karaoke box employee who vents his frustration with the excesses of his job at the owner of a dog in the neighborhood. Things go from bad to worse: he becomes the victim of a salesman who peddles him no end of expensive junk, the karaoke bar turns by degrees into a whorehouse, his notes become downright deranged and murderous … and then Yoshie turns up with a most unusual request that snaps everything together in the worst possible way.
“I Shall Be Released” follows the trail of one of the karaoke customers, a middle-aged author (maybe “manufacturer” would be a better word) of erotic novels. Frustrated by the inaccessibility of his wife and his general inability to crawl out of the porn ghetto, he turns to the karaoke bar to get his fun under the guise of “doing research”. He not only goes straight to the bottom, but breaks through the bottom. And in “Good Vibrations” we loop on back to Sayuri, the author’s transcriptionist and Hiroshi’s hapless girlfriend-of-sorts, who has her own bizarre sex-related moneymaking scheme on the side. It involves a camera hidden in her apartment and a complete lack of shame.
The odd thing about Lala Pipo is despite the griminess of the characters and the goings-on, it’s hard not to stop reading — it’s an example of “oh, man, what now?” storytelling, where there isn’t so much a plot as a precipice over which the characters get pushed one by one. Arthur Nersesian’s The Fuck-up was in vaguely the same vein: no real plot, just the character falling off the edge over and over again, but in ways so bizarre and hilarious you couldn’t help but continue. The problem with being a bottom-feeder is that, well, you have to go to the bottom to feed. And sometimes you get stuck there.