Murakami and Mortality

I feel almost guilty taking a break from Compendium during NaNoWriMo to write this blog post about Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I just finished it yesterday, and I want to get my thoughts out there while the book is still fresh in my mind. I have also read Kafka on the Shore by the same author, and I think the symbolism of Wind-Up Bird is very different and in some ways more accessible. That said, having lived in Japan and studied Japanese culture, I understood some of the ways in which this book challenges common Japanese perceptions of its own culture in ways that would not ring as deeply with American readers who are unfamiliar with the intricacies.

For instance, that Mr. Okada’s wife is the primary breadwinner and that he is in no rush to do something with his life runs totally counter to the vast majority of Japanese households, even modern ones, but especially ones in the early 1990’s. The focus on the actions of the Japanese soldiers during World War II also highlights some of the sensitivity that Japan has to this part of its internal history and how that interacts with its sense of nationalism. These explorations have everything to do with the absolutely passive nature of the main character. He is carried along as things happen to him and almost is treated as a vessel that absorbs the stories and problems of other characters. He is the link or the knot tying the novel together but at the same time someone who lets life happen to him. Murakami uses a the baseball bat to symbolize action. Every affirmative action taken by Mr. Okada in physical self defense is taken with a particular baseball bat. This bat is the symbol of his inner need to fight back against everything that has happened to him and everything that makes him a passive player in his life.

Another theme that runs deeply through the novel and is explored throughout, especially in the Lt. Mamiya storyline deals directly with  individual human mortality. Sometimes mortality is examined as something to be challenged, such as when Mr. Okada is in the bottom of the well the first time and Mae Kasahara leaves him to die. Other times, mortality is a dream. When Lt. Mamiya believes he is cursed to live a long life despite his desire to die, mortality or lack there of becomes a burden. And Boris the Man Skinner views mortality as conditional. He does not believe he can be killed unless the person pulling the trigger is qualified to kill him. These various angles of exploration lend many perspectives on what mortality means and how different people are impacted by it.

As I have found to be the case with Murakami’s work, not every thread of thought is tied into a neat bundle or explained in a readily consumable way. I found this to be less problematic for Wind-Up Bird than it was for KafkaKafta just left entire sub-threads unanswered… like was Kafka’s father actually “killed” in purgatory by the crow? Wind-Up Bird didn’t have gaping holes nearly that large. It did leave some loose ends, however… such as, whatever happened to Malta Kano. Why did Creta Kano go live with Lt. Mamiya? Who was the man that rendered Cinnamon mute? Questions like that still lingered at the end. I know that a couple of chapters of the English version were cut, so possibly some of those threads were further explained or at least explored in those deleted chapters, but I guess I will never know.

The up shot is that Murakami always creates a rich narrative that weaves in and out of reality with ease and feels so authentic to us that we are able to accept its verisimilitude even as the impossible occurs. So, to that I say: ありがとございます村上さん。きれいですそしてすごいです。

 

About the Photograph: This photograph was taken from a Shinjuku hotel room window at night in May, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan.

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