The Tate Liverpool

I feel as if my formal review style  lends to Patrick Bateman reviewing Huey Lewis and The News. Minus the excitement of wielding an axe  and the dance moves to boot. Now, onto the review.

The similarities between the Tate Liverpool and its older sibling in London is they both reside by water and house something that I just cant bring myself to oscillate my chin at — no matter how long I stare (it’s not like I’ve tried). Although, unlike it’s London counterpart, I didn’t have the privilege of a Burger King within a five-minute walking distance. I suppose the etchings by William Blake will more than suffice. As I imagine an overpriced chicken filet and decor carrying more artistic integrity in it’s shameless plugging of the ‘Burger King’ on a food tray.

Chris Morris: Jam Review

 

Welcome. In Jam.

Jam comprises of just six episodes, and was broadcast in 2000 for Channel 4. Written and directed by Chris Morris and co-written by Peter Baynham. Morris up to this point had already succeeded in garnering a large amount of notoriety within radio and television with the likes of On the Hour, The Day Today and Brass eye.

Jam by design is meant to deliberately subvert its audience, shedding light on the stark realities of everyday life. These sketches often start with a simple premise, pertaining to a moral question, that become manipulated and embellished to the point of transforming it into something more reminiscent to a surrealist nightmare. That aims to impregnate its audience with an immersive hallucinogenic experience that resembles something akin to a bad trip. Whilst some sketches are direct in way they present their message, most are indirect and are composed in such a way to allude to a broader metaphoric arc. Often the subject matter involves the satirising the human psyche as well as the society we inhabit. As a result it provides commentary on the implications of a reality devoid of the moral and ethical trappings that ground us.

A proportion of the content was lifted from the late night BBC show also headed by Morris called Blue Jam which was broadcast from 1997 through to 1999. Morris describes its inception as ‘singular, and it came from a mood, quite a desolate mood. I had this misty, autumnal, boggy mood anyway, so I just went with that,’ this ‘mood’ is clearly continued from the transition into television.  With the dark satirical monologues that open each show, now aided with the visual element only acts to exasperate the surrealist trip as the viewer is taken to the most depraved corners of the human psyche, whilst coinciding with self-analysis as you try to stifle laughs from Morris’s maniacal wit and wordplay. There is an unsettling induced inebriation to the way the sketches are shot; often out of sync, with actors lip-syncing their lines or the manipulation of time with sped up shots mixed with those that are slowed to a crawl. This only intensifies the surrealism and lends to something more reminiscent of a dreamscape.

Another element used across the series much like Blue Jam is the addition of music backing the sketches, usually unfolding over the entirety of the sketch and blending with the next, these are predominantly looped ambient pieces, that add a level of lethargy. With artists such as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and various other ambient groups from the 90’s supplementing the soundtrack. Jam also marked the first time a show on Channel 4 had broadcast a series without advertisement breaks so as not to divert from the overall atmosphere of the show, again highlighting Morris’s uncompromising stance in respect to art. At times the cinematography resembles more a documentarian style that lends to interviews of the subjects and characters of each sketch. This is a motif that carries itself across the breadth of the show, particularly highlighted with the ‘Thick People’ sketch from the first episode, which contains an opening from actor David Cann who represents a business owner, speaking directly to the camera ‘we specialise in providing thick people, for jobs that they’re particularly good at. Arguments. Thick people are very good at winning arguments because they’re too thick to realise they have lost.’

Morris does not only seeks out to skew the moral compass of the viewer, he outright aims to obliterate it. By shedding these culturally ingrained values, he is arguably able to produce something truly original in its design and execution. Obviously the individual’s subjectivity in reference to the idea of ‘what is considered comedy’ does play a part in the overall interpretation of the experience. To some audiences it may seem juvenile or at times overtly crass due to the forcible delivery of the content. But this is what Jam is supposed to be, by its very nature it is meant to elicit disgust and thrust the viewer into an uncomfortable situation of introspective analysis. Stripping back to the bare bones of reality itself without pandering to political correctness for the sake of compromising artistic integrity. To some it remains a standout in British comedy whose predecessors somewhat pale in comparison, and seem startlingly mediocre when aligned with the unhinged and uncompromising offering that is Jam

What Jam does best is target the human itself, psycho analysing society to its core. Confronting what it is that inhibits us as a race and also the natural pitfalls and contradictions we find ourselves in. Which by design of its inflective nature is bound to contain uncomfortable truths. The success of such subject matter fundamentally falls to the satirist edge and comedic wit of Morris’s writing and the use of subtlety and restraint in the delivery. It could be argued that this is a strain of commentary that is sorely missed in the current televised landscape. It’s a testament to Morris’s ability that he was able to infiltrate and present some of the most critically acclaimed and cult collections of satirical and comical work of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Whilst Jam could be perceived to lack the mainstream recognition in comparison to the likes of Morris’s other television output of  Brass Eye and The Day Today. Jam represents something completely unique in its own right and remains something that sixteen years later has yet to be equalled by its bare and often grotesque portrayal of the darker sides of humanity.

NO

 

 

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NO Review

Originally conceived as the unpublished play by Antonio Skármeta; El Plebiscito, Pablo Larraín’s NO provides a cinematic dramatization of the 1988 Chilean referendum.

The referendum was reactive from international pressures, stemming from Chile’s alliance with America. Specifically, it was targeted at the 15-year dictatorship of General Pinochet, whose reign was characterised by his disregard and questionable approach to human rights. His résumé included: murder, torture, enforced exile and disappearances. Pinochet originally submitted to the referendum as a means to appease western demand, by allowing public platform of democratic choice by voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ under the illusion he would win.

The film focuses on the ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ campaigns, where the respective parties were allotted a 15-minute TV slot in order to promote their cause. The ‘NO’ campaign was built on the coalition of 16 political parties opposed to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Their team was headed by the film’s central character, Rene Savvedra. This campaign was pre-emptively under the notion that the referendum had been fixed to favour Pinochet. Therefore, they chose to highlight the atrocities committed by his dictatorship, depicting the violence exacted on the Chilean public, using montages of torture and murder to back their campaign. However, Rene believed this tactic to be counteractive, as the fear stoking content would inundate their audience into feeling powerlessness. Despite seeming detractors from the coalition, Rene sought a stance of optimism, gearing the campaign towards a more positive angle. He believed this approach would best elicit a strong emotional response and would convince the public to get to the polls. Rene harnessed aspects of western popular culture for the campaign, using celebrities and catchy jingles. The film makes use of the original jingles from the 1988 broadcasts. These broadcasts were reinforced with tag lines such as: ‘[h]appiness is coming if you vote NO’, alongside the image of a rainbow.

As well as depicting the nation’s political struggle, Larrain portrays the internal conflicts of NO’s characters whilst faced with the opposing parties. Rene is a young father and advertising executive, he is presented as softly spoken and with a youthful spirit. He is pitted against his own boss, Lucho Guzmán, a proud, middle-aged and brash man, who procures overt conservative support for the ‘YES’ campaign. This conflict builds tension on a personal level and enforces the idea of generational gaps and the stakes of personal pride.

The ‘YES’ campaign pandered more to the middle and upper classes, highlighting the economic benefits of Pinochet’s political run and the modernisation of the country. This is humorously depicted through repetitive shots and the use of microwaves as a symbol, a misguided perspective on what defined success within the culture. Pinochet’s campaign resembled more of a tribute to a divine figure: a father to the Chilean people, following a trend approach of former Dictators and of that which is prevalent today in North Korea. Their broadcasts were heavily focused on glorifying the nation’s military as their main source of content, with their side lines marked by adoring public.

The ‘NO’ campaign pioneered a change in advertising presentation blending between traditional forms of advertisement and politics. They exposed the ‘YES’ campaign for its dated content, which forced them to alternate their style and delivery. As the stakes rose they adopted and outright stole Rene’s techniques, which, contrary to expectation brought about the dying gasps of desperation within the Pinochet regime. This successfully builds intensity to the film’s crescendo, with the traditional underdog’s victory.

The disappearances of protesters referred to as ‘desaparecidos, the ones who just disappeared’ , are alluded to throughout NO, which carries subtle hints regarding the entwined dangers of opposing the dictatorship. Pinochet’s secret police the DINA shadow the ‘NO’ campaign as they gather steam and correspondingly the consistent use of violence exacted on protesters heightens the stakes of supporting ‘NO’. This instills a sense of anxiety and emotional investment to Rene’s pursuits, believing that he may fall foul of these fates as a result of his direct involvement in the campaign. This pathos perhaps at it’s peak during the scenes where a peaceful street protest becomes violent at the hands of abusive military infraction. Rene and his son are caught in the middle of fray, the close camera shots of their faces creates much tension, implying that anything could happen and possibly will.

Faithful to the period, the visual quality of the film has a retro aesthetic. Larrain shot NO with a 1983 U-matic video camera to accurately recreate the look of 1988 , his shots have a lack of contrast, providing a washed out look . Additionally, his cinematic choices give the film an amateur documentarian style. The use of archival footage lends to legitimacy and commitment by Larrain to reflect the time period in detail, immersing the audience to suspend belief, inserting themselves into the events of the time and siding with the ‘NO’ campaign. Larrain allows no room for a neutral stance, placing historical context within a driving factual account. His commitment to specifics and ability to maintain a constant presence of tension throughout the film is testament to both the level cinematography and the performances from the actors themselves. With the unison of these components forging the final product and being able to an insightful and interactive piece that pulls you directly into the Chilean political landscape.

 

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ‘Skeleton Tree’ Review

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Key

‘One more time with feeling’

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 16th studio album Skeleton tree transports its listeners into an emotional space that is inescapable by design. Immersing us in its tragedy and grief, these themes dominate the course of the album letting up intermittently, for a sliver of optimism. But even these are not enough to alleviate the mood. A harrowing wail and beauty juxtaposed next to one another, it carries a resonance on first listen that demands attention with its intrinsic insight into one of Cave’s most emotionally drenched albums of his career. This by no means makes it an easy listen, but that is not the point. The overwhelming tragedy surrounding Cave’s personal life, with the death of his 15-year old son Arthur occurring during the sessions in 2015 in Caves hometown of Brighton. It seems that this has dominated the perception of this album, from its inception, it could be seen as an indirect public ode to this very personal loss, as these reverberations are felt throughout. The result is Cave working through his loss in a search for an unquenchable solace though the process of making art as a necessary familiarity.

‘It’s our bodies that fall when they try to rise’

Nick Cave has always flirted with death in his songs. A long running trope that holds precedent over his wordplay, often carried with a skewed level of irony and symbolistic nature. Cave has touched upon these, but the sincerity by which Skeleton Tree is constructed gives a glimpse into an aspect of life that no one should experience. This is where the fictitious elements of Caves previous work gives way to a piece that appears to be entrenched in a stark reality, but is still presented from the perspective of characters in order to carry his message.

Another aspect is the instrumental work of the Bad Seeds that accompanies Cave’s vocals. Expounding on the themes of minimalist composition that the Bad Seeds explored with 2013’s Push the Sky Away, and utilising loops of synth and orchestral swells, with lone piano notes creating a backdrop of ambience. Push The Sky Away, acts as a template, with every new turn or extra layer applied with such care and precision to complement the songs, but maintaining a uniform sparseness, harnessing aspects of the early bad seed manifesto, that functions off a minimalist ideal with delta blues/post punk fusion that inspired From Her To Eternity and The Firstborn is Dead. If it resembles anything it’s the haunting and remarkable Stranger Than Kindness with throbbing bass and droning instrumentation, harnessing the influence of his earlier material with a more matured take. All of this is created to punctuate atmosphere, perfectly blending the voice and instrumental. These sparse arrangements act as a sinkhole into Cave’s subdued and wounded vocals to only further exasperate the experience, by appearing so exposed and vulnerable. Although Cave professes to have written the lyrics before his son’s death, it can’t be helped to see the lyrics as a prophetic statement on these events, this is also made mention of in Mark Mordue’s Guardian article; Nick Cave: One More Time With Feeling, Skeleton Tree and the power and language of grief.
Even though the album was completed after this tragic incident, it captures a snapshot of the mourning process, even if there is no direct reference in the songs save for a few minor alterations to the lyrics before completion. This personal tragedy forms an air that encases all of the songs, creating an eerie mesh of coincidences, with opening lines such as ‘[y]ou fell from the sky and crash landed in a field’ from the opening track ‘Jesus Alone’. This presents startling resemblances to factual events, pulling the listener into a position of morbid voyeurism and inviting the listener to witness such tragedy in a very open medium.

‘And some people say it’s just rock ‘n’ roll’

Within the last three tracks the fragility of life is poignantly driven home. ‘I Need You’ baits a sense that Cave is near breaking point with blunt lyrics such as ‘[n]othing really matters when the one you love is gone’. Despite the indirect nature, by using a character perspective recalling a woman in a red dress, it is apparent that this is a fractured narrator pulling you into his void. The listener becomes a trespasser on his despair, due to this delivery, almost quivering and daring to falter at any point. The track is accompanied by a shoegaze synth and offset jazz beat. meshing to create a perfect atmosphere for Cave’s lyrical wanderings.

The success of Skeleton Tree is its ability to reflect on aspects of ourselves and the way the listener can interpret the nature of the musical package as a whole. Every word carries a great weight. ‘Distant Sky’ is another track steeped in emotion from start to finish, featuring Danish soprano Else Torp, one of the most successful duets of Caves career.

‘They told us our dreams would outlive us/[t]hey told us our Gods would outlive us but they lied’.

It’s truly a reflective piece that pulls the last drops of emotion you can muster before the title track, which is arguably the most upbeat song on the album, closes the experience by alleviating the sombre tones to make way for an optimism that still has traces of melancholy. ‘And I called out/ Nothing is for free’. The denouement recounts the album as a vessel, travelling the process of dealing with the grief. The closing lines, ‘[a]nd it’s alright now’, repeated over and over, give the sense of a self-mantra and closure to an overall remarkable experience and a highlight of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds extensive career.

This is an album defined by its beauty. The way Cave portrays and channels grief, in arguably one of the sincerest and expressive pieces of his discography, through this marred narrator, forces Cave to somewhat lose the narrative and character driven lyricism for a more insightful, personal and inflective landscape. It feels as if he is trying to exonerate himself of his grief, laying himself bare, his voice breaking as he is mourning with each line, wrenching every note, providing a truly beautiful and tasteful ode to loss, grief and personal tragedy.

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I used to think that when you died, you kind of wandered the world/ In a slumber till you crumbled, were absorbed into the earth/ Well, I don’t think that any more

City of God Review

 

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City of God Review

City of God depicts the culture within the Rio favelas, located fifteen miles from the ‘paradise’ of central Rio. It is based on an adaptation of Paulo Lins novel of the same name, and loosely depicts true events of the time, which operate from the 1960s, through until the early 80’s. These events function as a vehicle for the narrative of the main characters Rocket and Li’l Ze who drastically differ in aspirations despite being influenced by the same culture.

City of God uses flashbacks to recount micro stories from the narration of Rocket and the supporting characters, following proceeding years in the favelas and recounting the fates of these acquiesces. This use of flashback is key in building the crescendo of the macro story that acts as a cinematic pseudo-documentary of those who are impoverished and entrapped in the repetitive cycle of their surroundings. City of God can be seen as a social study which is documented with realism and entrenched in its characters. It demands attention throughout with the favela becoming a central figure, with just as much importance as its inhabitants, and how these trappings are fundamental in shaping those people. The shots flash resembling a camera shutter throughout favelas, where the mortality rate is high in light of the communal war zone the characters inhabit and drugs and violence are instilled at an early age.

One of the most compelling aspects of the film is how violence is manipulated to bring forth a reality with its selective graphic nature. Not over saturating the audience as a means to elicit the greatest emotional response, whilst still highlighting the importance of violence within the culture. This is achieved by raising the intensity as the film progresses, predominantly deployed as we follow Li’l Ze, providing a jarring portrayal of a sociopathic drug pusher who sits atop the favela crime hierarchy.

Similarly, there is a gradual rise in the violence of the landscape, highlighted by the distinct difference of the outlaw behaviour of modern day favelas with the favelas of the 60s. Beginning with the ‘Tender Trio’, a community that resembles more as a suburban internment camp than housing, with crime committed on behalf of the community and done under the premise of ‘good’, and then transitioning to the favelas becoming more intense and built up. The favelas then segregating themselves as a society that functions under its own laws and code, with crime used as a means to build and solidify the individuals’ status.

Additionally, the film is underscored by samba music, that creates a normality and party aspect. Using a contrasting score, the music serves to juxtapose the tragedy and violence onscreen by supplementing a carnival, party atmosphere.

This juxtaposition is also used with the seemingly ‘fun’ opening shot of a chicken being chased, stark against the image of youths carrying guns. This opening shot of the chicken opens and closes the film. Used in the beginning to introduce the opposing characters of Li’l Ze and Rocket, and then at the end to conclude the flashbacks and bring us back to the present. Furthermore, this shot also provides metaphysical connotations similar to those that occupy the favelas and wish to escape, how they end up chased and brutalised, escape is merely an implausible idea and not considered an option.

What I find startling, is that these are predominantly pre-pubescent children running ransack on a community, scaring its landscape in a quest for power and respect whilst toting guns as if they are little more than toys, fighting for supremacy to ascend the local hierarchal crime ladder, who fantasise of murder. Their world so imbued by violence and guns, could not be further than the western world. One of the many stand out moments in the film, is the murder of children at the hand of peer pressure. This is done with such cold disconnected way, from Li’l Ze that it provides one of the most shocking scenes and solidifies the ruthlessness of the favelas, uncompromising and unforgivable.

Within the engrained psyche of the favelas, contradictions do exist. However, these are found within the generation prior, where there are still some remains of moral and ethical expectations found in that of a more traditional society. Specifically, in Rocket, who wishes to escape the accepted norm through his passion of photography despite his sentiments that ‘Honesty doesn’t pay’. There are minor comedic forays into a failed attempt at crime, yet he prevails, as his dreams of a photographer come to fruition. However, this is at the expense of his surroundings and its internal war, a place that has caused even the most self-righteous of citizens, like Knockout Ned, to turn against their moral beliefs.

With even the morally intact surrendering into the violence, under the guise of vengeance only exasperating the problems. Thus proving that even the most upstanding are corrupted by the society they inhabit by proxy. This act of vengeance only fuels the death toll as the favelas resemble more of a war zone as the film builds to its finale with Rocket’s inflection

[w]hat should have been swift revenge turned into an all-out war. The City of God was divided. You couldn’t go from one section to the other, not even to visit a relative. The cops considered anyone living in the slum a hoodlum. People got used to living in Vietnam, and more and more volunteers signed up to die.[1]

City of God provides a startling portrayal of the Rio favelas and documents the reality of a culture that is moulded by its surroundings. It operates as a cinematic experience as well as a visual history, documenting the effects of a society marked by a degradation that is ingrained into each generation from an early age and raises a repetitive cycle that is disconnected from everything but its own insular existence.

 

 

[1] City of god, dir. by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund (, 2002)

 

 

Haruki Murakami ‘After Dark’ Review

We live two different lives [1]

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Japanese author, Haruki Murakami’s After Dark is best taken in with a serving of sleep deprivation and to be devoured in those same nocturnal hours that After Dark occupies, letting the sleep starved mind meander with a free form jazz like experimentation of Murakami’s work into a surrealist vision that is shrouded in mystery.

Murakami uses Tokyo’s entertainment district, as a structure to blend the surreal with the mundane to form a balanced piece of magic realism. This neon landscape, sculpted by Murakami forms ‘a single collective entity created by many intertwining organism’[2] almost organic in its nature as it becomes a character in of itself that underpins the central figures much akin to the tone of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation[3] meets a David Lynch style surrealism.

Following the tropes of magic realism, this is a world located between reality and the abstract qualities of dreams. Once again the leitmotifs of duality that Murakami explores in other works, such as: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World[4] and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,[5] are at work here. Trapping the character’s likeness in mirrors, even after they have left the room and a sinister supernatural presence dwelling inside a television, which gives precedent to an alternate spiritual plane beyond the confines of reality. The lines of logic and reason are blurred as the passage of time continues until the inevitable dawn with the city itself resembling the character’s traits of duality from their day time counterparts.

In After Dark Murakami takes various angles of perspective that provides the reader opportune moments to close inspect the narrative world by using the perspective of a camera, scoping a scene in a very direct and sentient way.

Our viewpoint takes the form of a mid-air camera that can move freely about the room.[6]

This technique takes in the plights of the characters and their various interactions, over the course of one night in metropolitan Tokyo, whist the narrator’s passive voice provides a basis to guide the perspective of the scene, much like a director, whilst maintaining this observational distance from the characters, allowing space for their own personality to guide the reader into surveying the scene for themselves.

In a brief overview, we are introduced to Mari, a reserved figure, keeping to herself, as a patron of a Denny’s, sipping coffee and smoking between reading. Her self-imposed alienation and deliberate anonymity, is interrupted by a conveyor of chance-interactions instigated by Takahasi: a trombone wielding student on the precipice of giving up on his dream to pursue law. We learn that he is an acquaintance of Mari’s older sister Eri, a once outgoing model, narcissistic in her nature, opposed to that of her sibling ‘the elder sister, Snow White; the younger sister, a little genius’.[7] We find Eri to be trapped in a two-month deep sleep that is described as ‘too pure, too perfect’[8] and appears to be haunted by a man whose face is covered by shrink wrapped plastic, obscuring his face, and is located inside her television. This television serves as a nightmarish portal into Eri’s room, the consequences of its existence could be grave, with Murakami specifically highlighting its significance early on and drawing our attention to it ‘[s]omething is about to happen in this room. Something of great significance’.[9] This provides a distance between Mari and Eri, for no discernible reason, with Eri’s chapters highlighting the duality between them, these moments bring attention to how the two sisters are both metaphorically and literally out of touch.

There is also the portrayal of the seedier underbelly of the night, ‘love hotels’ and a view from the manager of such an establishment coercing with a beaten Chinese prostitute / unsavoury businessman, and how all of these characters become entangled at various points of the night.

After dark delivers Murakami’s unique voice and diHstinct qualities of cinematic metafiction by the direct nature he moulds description with short sentence structure that pack details hinting at a subtext of something deeper by which the reader is implored to explore, Murakami does this with the use of first person plural; used as a tool for intimacy at selective moments to intrude into the character’s lives leaving enough room for a sense of ambiguity and mystery to linger.

Through the eyes of a high-flying bird, we take in the scene from midair […] our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and focusing there, silently descends to it – a sea of neon colours.[10]

This technique can be viewed as something that comes off as more of a jarring read to some, with Ben Dooley arguing: ‘Murakami has nothing to say. Nothing of any real significance, at least’.[11] Admittedly, this could be frustrating for those craving a definitive formulaic approach, or those who find the tying up of loose ends as imperative to the reading experience. However, I believe that the true significance is found within the character development and their interactions throughout the course of the story. Imbued with metaphor and a precise view into the human condition, the utilisation of an eclectic cast of characters, spun by Murakami’s signature delivery, adds a quality to this Novel that is unobtrusive and provides the grounds to read beyond what is being presented. It is this openness that is appealing to me, as the, providing the option to delve deeper into the subtext of the narrative and of ourselves. After Dark spotlighting the metaphysics of a world that somewhat mirrors that of reality and sentiments that we have an affinity to.

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[1] Haruki Murakami, After dark (London: Vintage, 2008) pp.62

[2] Ibid,.3

[3] Lost in Translation, dir. by Sophia Coppola (Focus Features, et al, 2003) [Film].

[4] Haruki Murakami, Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world (London: Vintage, 2001).

[5] Haruki Murakami, The wind-up bird chronicle (London: Vintage, 1999).

[6] Haruki Murakami, After Dark., pp.25

[7] Ibid., pp.57

[8] Ibid., pp.26

[9] Ibid., pp.30

[10] Ibid., pp.3

[11] Ben Dooley, Rootless detachment: A review of after dark by Haruki Murakami (The Millions, 2007),