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[BOOKS] Haruki Murakami: A Rebel in Japan Eyes Status in America

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  • chiayuan25
    A Rebel in Japan Eyes Status in America By NORIMITSU ONISHI Published: June 14, 2005 TOKYO, June 12 - If he has not achieved that status already, Haruki
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2005
      A Rebel in Japan Eyes Status in America
      Published: June 14, 2005

      TOKYO, June 12 - If he has not achieved that status already, Haruki
      Murakami is on course to becoming the most widely read Japanese
      writer outside Japan, past or present.

      His novels (including "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle") have long been
      popular in China and South Korea, as well as Germany and the Baltic
      states. "Kafka on the Shore," his most recent novel, published in
      English by Alfred A. Knopf, made some best-seller lists in the United
      States earlier this year. That, and a film adaptation of his short
      story, "Tony Takitani," which is to open on July 29 in the United
      States, may give him the popular visibility in America he has long
      coveted. (In Japan, paperback copies of "Kafka" are still prominently
      displayed in bookstores, next to his more recent novel, "After
      Dark." )

      Still, for all his success, Mr. Murakami, 55, speaks with a bitter
      edge toward the Japanese literary establishment, which has kept him
      at bay as much as he has distanced himself from it.

      "I don't consider myself part of the establishment," he said. "I
      don't deal with the Japanese literary circle or society at all. I
      live totally separate from them and still rebel against that world."

      Indeed in Japan, the traditional literary critics regard his novels
      as un-Japanese and look askance at their Western influences, ranging
      from the writing style to the American cultural references. (In the
      United States his work is taught in colleges and has been reviewed by
      John Updike in The New Yorker.)

      During a recent interview at his office, a barefoot Mr. Murakami,
      wearing jeans and an orange shirt, spoke on a variety of subjects,
      from his place in contemporary literature to his writing habits. He
      appeared at ease, since he was preparing to take one of his periodic
      breaks, both from his writing and from Japan. He will spend the next
      year at Harvard as a writer in residence.

      "Kafka on the Shore" tells two alternating and ultimately converging
      stories. Mr. Murakami said he had become bored writing about urban
      dwellers in their 20's and 30's, and so in "Kafka" he decided to
      create two different types: a 15-year-old boy named Kafka Tamura, who
      runs away from home to rural western Japan; and a mentally defective
      man in his 60's, Satoru Nakata, who has the ability to talk to cats.

      The novel has Mr. Murakami's signature surrealism, as fish rain from
      the sky, and characters named Johnnie Walker, a cat killer, and
      Colonel Sanders, a pimp, play critical roles.

      Like his other novels this one is filled with references to American
      culture, but Mr. Murakami said he regarded Coca-Cola and Colonel
      Sanders, for instance, as worldwide references. "References such as
      Colonel Sanders or Johnnie Walker are in a way Western and everybody
      tends to fix their eyes on that," he said. "But as for the essence of
      a story, my stories have strong Japanese or Oriental elements. I
      think the structure of my stories is different from so-called Western

      His storytelling, he said, "does not develop logically from A to B to
      C to D, but I don't intentionally break up or reverse episodes the
      way postmodernists do. For me, it is a natural development, but it is
      not logical."

      Mr. Murakami's attachment to American literature is longstanding. As
      a high school student in Kobe, in western Japan, he read, in the
      original, Kurt Vonnegut, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote and
      Raymond Chandler. Like many Japanese of his generation, he became
      passionate about jazz and rock.

      "American culture," he said, "became ingrained in my body." By
      contrast, he never read Japanese novels until he was an adult. "I
      didn't read them when I was young because they were boring," he said.

      In Japanese, Mr. Murakami speaks in declarative, sometimes blunt,
      sentences that convey exactly what he means. He eschews the
      expressions that most Japanese use to soften their speech and that
      tend to make the language vague.

      His writing is infused with the same directness, which makes it easy
      to translate into English, but which many critics here say lack the
      richness of traditional literary Japanese. And there are readers here
      who say that his writing reads as if it had been translated from
      English into their own language.

      Mr. Murakami - who translated English-language novels into Japanese
      before he wrote them, and two years ago offered a new Japanese
      translation of "The Catcher in the Rye" - said he has chosen to write
      in a "neutral" Japanese, explaining:

      "There was a notion in Japan that novelists write in a certain style.
      I totally ignored it and created a new style. Therefore, in Japan,
      there was resistance. I was much criticized."

      When "Kafka" was published in Japan in 2002, it was popularly
      acclaimed. But some of this country's top literary critics dismissed
      it as an example of the impoverishment of Japanese literature, with
      language devoid of depth and richness.

      Among readers, however, his novels are wildly successful, allowing
      him to write fiction full time - something he said he had never
      imagined possible.

      He wrote "Kafka" in six months, starting, as he usually does, without
      a plan. He spent one year revising it. He follows a strict regimen.
      Going to bed around 9 p.m. - he never dreams, he said - he wakes up
      without an alarm clock around 4 a.m. He immediately turns on his
      Macintosh and writes until 11 a.m., producing every day 4,000
      characters, or the equivalent of two to three pages in English.

      He said that his wife has told him that his personality changes when
      he is writing his first draft, and that he becomes difficult,
      nontalkative, tense and forgetful.

      "I write the same amount every day without any day off," he said. "I
      absolutely never look back and go forward. I hear Hemingway was like

      Unlike Hemingway, Mr. Murakami leads a healthy lifestyle. In the
      afternoons, to build up his stamina to keep writing, he works out for
      one or two hours. Whenever he is in Tokyo, he also visits old-record
      stores, especially ones in the youth mecca of Shibuya, which appears
      to be the unnamed setting of "After Dark," published last fall to
      relatively little attention here.

      A short novel, which has yet to be translated into English, "After
      Dark" centers on the stories of several characters over the course of
      one night as seen, neutrally and coldly, through a camera eye. The
      novel could be easily adapted into film, unlike Mr. Murakami's other
      novels. He has resisted selling his novels to filmmakers, though he
      said he would hand them over unconditionally to Woody Allen or David

      He may now be enjoying the big break in the United States that he has
      worked for since spending two years in the country in the early

      "I went to New York myself, found an agent myself, found a publisher
      myself, found an editor myself," Mr. Murakami said. "No Japanese
      novelist has ever done such things. But I thought I had to do that."

      He added: "I wanted to test my ability overseas, not being satisfied
      with being a famous novelist in Japan."

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