Mariko Koike's 1990 major work "A Cappella" (無伴奏) is an even-toned memoir-like piece that derives fairly clearly from Haruki Murakami's 1987 blockbuster "Norwegian Wood (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage International)." Marking as it does the beginning of Koike's switch from feminist critique to horror/popular works to what eventually became known as her 'love trilogy' of three romance-oriented novels [ultimately resulting in the 1995 Naoki Prize-winner 'Love [Japanese Edition],'--Koike's "A Cappella" may be seen as both response to--and participatory in--the Japanese literary establishment's currents of the late 80s and early 90s. Like Norwegian Wood and Ryu Murakami's "69," (1987) "A Cappella" is drenched in nostalgia and longing--longing for school days, nostalgia for a Japan riveted with protest movements and sexual exploration, sentiment for perhaps a simpler era. But in the end this work falls a little short of brilliance and internationally-acclaimed status, and Koike's work seems more suited for the obsessive Japanese-literature specialist or academic, and less for the general reader. If we give credit to Koike for the effective use of the Rolling Stones' "As Tears Go By" early in the book to set mood and time period in anticipation of Haruki Murakami's 1992 "South of the Border," at the same time there is not much here that is an advance rather than repeat of "Norwegian Wood." At the most extreme, we might even call this work derivative.
Part of the problem for the Western reader lies in the dynamics of translation and publication itself. Were we part of the Kamakura set spending our summers loafing on beaches and sailing small boats, we would have received this work as part of that 1987-1995 explosion of nostalgia pieces and re-examinations of protest-era Japan. Read on the beach during those years, "A Cappella" would have been part and parcel of that time, and recognized as a valuable contributory element. But today in 2013, some twenty-three years after initial publication and well after many of the authorial principals of that period have gone on to hone their specialisations, Koike's work inevitably finds itself weaker than its peers of type and its revelations and plot twists just a notch less shocking or moving. Our morals and expectations have evolved, so to speak, and we are less shocked and shaken up by the turn of events of Koike's work, even if her prose remains clipped and understated and her always celebrated descriptions evocative and detailed. 穏やか回顧録、ノルウェイの森に似て