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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lala Pipo

Okuda Hideo

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To purchase Lala Pipo

Title: Lala Pipo
Author: Okuda Hideo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 284 pages
Original in: Japan
Availability: Lala Pipo - US
Lala Pipo - UK
Lala Pipo - Canada
  • Japanese title: ララピポ
  • Translated by Marc Adler

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid if somewhat seedy Japanese La ronde-variation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 12/10/2008 Steve Finbow

  From the Reviews:
  • "The self-reflexive twists to the stories give the book a metafictional almost playful feel and, in this manner, distract the reader from what could have been a very depressing book. Lala Pipo deftly mixes satire with farce, comedy with tragedy, and eroticism with social commentary. At times, the book reads like a fusion of The Usual Suspects and Ryunosuke Akutagawa's In a Grove, playing, as it does, with memory, unreliable narrators and complex plotting. (...) Lala Pipo is a well-written, humorous and timely book." - Steve Finbow, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lala Pipo (the explanation for the somewhat unfortunate title comes deep in the book, and it does turn out to be appropriate enough) is a contemporary Japanese variation on Schnitzler's La ronde (Reigen) with six chapters, each focussed on an individual who also winds up having some connexion with the next featured protagonist, making for considerable overlap among the chapters (and also eventually coming nicely more than full circle). Some of the same episodes are also described from the different perspectives, and Okuda is particularly good at adding new twists as he progresses through the chapters, as something incidental in one often suddenly takes on a whole different meaning in the next.
       Sex is the common thread among these six characters that live largely isolated lives. Even the married mother barely communicates at all with her husband and teenage daughter any longer (and when she lets the garbage pile up to block off the upstairs floor of their home there's something her subconscious is doing a wonderful job of blocking out too ...). Sex is often vicarious and voyeuristic here, from the young man who eavesdrops on his neighbour's love-making to the woman whose job is transcribing pornography, dictated by a successful author of erotica. But these characters don't have that much of a problem finding someone to engage in sex with. Sure, there's often money involved (they have to pay, or they get paid for it), but it is available. But all it is is sex, without the relationship or a true human connexion.
       Most of the characters are, in one way or another, lured into sex. Some of the women are convinced that here's an opportunity to make some easy money, while for some of the men the easy availability of sex makes it too hard to say no -- as is the case with the man working at a karaoke bar that slides all too easily into becoming a sex-club. But the outcome is rarely entirely satisfying: sex ruins several of these lives completely, and damages quite a few others.
       Okuda's portrait of these lost souls can't help but be slightly melancholy: these are sad, lonely figures. But the situations he gets them in, and the humour throughout, makes for an entertaining sex romp; the constant small surprises as to how everything unfolds help too, even though he occasionally succumbs to a bit too much exaggeration (the chapter with the deluded garbage-woman, in particular, seems to get out of hand). Lala Pipo also offers an interesting picture of the seamier side of Japan (and parts of the local sex trade).
       Obviously, there's a lot of sex, too, though most of it tends to be of the desperate sort -- absolutely everybody involved is very quickly aroused and seems desperate to go at it and can't hold themselves back, often with comic results -- and this naturally leads to some overheated descriptions, as well as some that are truly bizarre:

The head of his penis was so engorged with blood that he could practically see his reflection in it.
       With its singular obsession Lala Pipo is a bit over the top, but it is well done and, for this sort of thing, really quite good. For the most part it is just soft porn, but Okuda adds enough more to it -- especially in how he presents his tale(s) -- that it's of interest beyond that as well.
       Obviously not for everyone, but really quite worthwhile.

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Lala Pipo: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Okuda Hideo (奥田英朗) was born in 1959.

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