Thoughts on controversial depictions in Murakami’s novel

March 25, 2021 By mk

I know that some people do not like Murakami’s work because of the sexual scenes and the way the characters (especially the female characters) are portrayed. It is the same in his home country, and some people do not buy his novels for the same reason. However, few people criticise a novelist, whereas politicians and journalists are always heavily criticised, not only for their work, but also for themselves.

One of the reasons behind this attitude is a reflection of having a cult, those depicted in Underground and 1Q84. The hallmark of cults was to give clear answers to people with complex problems. Giving an ‘easy label’ to the author of a creative work that touches something deep within the human heart may act in the same way as if the cult had given easy answers to its followers, even if it was based on goodwill.

The other lesson was a so-called “they-are-different-from-us” logic in the way of thinking. Due to the natural tendency, when people faced a situation that they could not instinctively understand, some often attribute it to the difference between the cultures, value etc. The cult utilised this technique effectively to promote unity within the community, but the negligence of the effort to understand others caused the catastrophe. Even now, some people attribute their failure of understanding of an issue to cultural difference.

Concerning cults, another lesson is the logic of the so-called “they are different from us” in the way we thought when we came into contact with them in the early days. When confronted with someone we instinctively do not understand, it is a natural tendency to use cultural and value differences as a reason. Initially, they were treated as “they are different”. However, the cult made good use of this situation to build unity within the community and get its followers to ignore issues outside the cult, except to take a critical view. And society continued to treat them as “they are different” and, in the end, realised that it had caused a catastrophe. But even now, some people remind us of the methods used by the cult, saying that their inability to understand certain issues is due to a simplified view caused by cultural differences.

I do not like “everything” in Murakami’s works, including uncomfortable expressions. However, I read Murakami’s works and accept such discomfort as a medium to delve into something unearthly (but if I don’t find it very interesting, just skip the part). I think I am following the way of our ancestors, both East and West, who were able to preserve a cultural heritage that includes things that have been banned or said to be degenerate throughout human history.

I know that some people call Murakami’s expression “problematic”. On the other hand, I also know that novelists are often congested with protagonists and narrators in their novels. As I see it, the higher the ability of the writer, the more such congestion occurs. If the expressions in Murakami’s novels make the reader think, “This is who he is,” I think it is because of the high level of gravity that he has created in his books.

What interested me was that Murakami himself was a henpecked husband, loyal to his wife for 49 years without any rumour of an affair. Yet, he produced such ” impressively characteristic controversial expressions” in his novel. Even if one is merely following a hidden desire to criticise someone from the standpoint of “justice and correctness”, I do not think it is fair to confuse the novelist and the protagonist in the novel when criticising the expressions in the novel novelist’s work.

Due to pandemics and enforced restrictions on activity, people spend more and more time on social networking sites, and platform companies are monetising this attention as commercial value. In this “attention economy”, human mental capacity tends to be driven by sensational catchphrases and simple labelling.

Recently, I was surprised to find a biased translation of some of Murakami’s interview comments on feminism in a popular web article. Most parts of the interview article were translated correctly, so I suspect that it was not a problem with the translator’s linguistic skills, but something else. I understand that catchy articles are easier to circulate and that variant communication occurs, using words derived from the social sciences as an alternative expression of disgust fuelled by social networking sites and emotional exchanges. However, it is of no value on its own.

On 20 March, the day of the gas attack, I prayed at Kasumigaseki underground station. The station staff lost their lives to save the passengers. This time I got to thinking about more than that and thought I would share it here.

We hope that the pandemic will end soon and that the world will be a better place.

(Updated English expression for readability improvement without changing the original meaning on May 5, 2021)