Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, whose latest work explores new territory like rebirth and family, says he is a believer in the power of storytelling.
Murakami, 68, opened up to Japanese reporters in an interview about "Killing Commendatore," a novel published in Japanese in two parts in February.
"Killing Commendatore" has a propulsive story, multilayered themes and lavish imagery. It ends with a sense of warmth, enveloping characters who have lost people dear to them or are deeply wounded.
It also describes prayers for rebirth.
"Storytelling gives people power -- I believe that," Murakami said.
The protagonist is a 36-year-old portrait painter, "me."
When his wife abruptly tells him she wants to leave him, he begins living in a house in the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, that used to be the home and studio of a painter of traditional "nihonga" paintings named Tomohiko Amada.
He finds a painting of Amada's, entitled "Killing Commendatore," in an attic. It depicts the scene in the Mozart opera "Don Giovanni" when the knight is killed recreated in ancient Japan.
Curious things proceed to happen throughout the story, written in the first person.
"I used to always write in the first person, so I had a sense of liberty as I went back to my old field," Murakami said. "Novels I like, like 'Catcher in the Rye' and 'The Great Gatsby,' are in the first person too. When I was translating novels like those, I felt like writing (that way) again. Perhaps first-person novels suit me."
Murakami said every time he listened to "Don Giovanni" he had wondered what exactly a commendatore was.
"The title, 'Killing Commendatore,' popped into my mind and I was taken with how peculiar it felt. Then curiosity reared its head -- what kind of story would that be?" he said.
With a painter as its protagonist, the work is embedded with Murakami's own writing methods and of views on art.
"I don't know how to paint pictures, but I think the fundamentals of pictures and literature are the same, so I transferred the work I do in writing novels (into the story)," he said.
The painting depicting the killing of the commendatore serves as a requiem to someone dear to its artist.
"I think I've always written about feelings toward things that have been lost," Murakami said. "But this time, that wasn't all -- I wanted to link that to rebirth."
"It might be because I feel a sense of responsibility that comes with my age," he said. "I brought the story to a neat conclusion for the same reason."
At the start of the novel, the broken-hearted protagonist goes on a road trip up the coast of northeastern Japan. The end of the novel depicts the devastation of the same area by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The protagonist watches the destruction of places he once aimlessly traveled around playing out on television.
"The characters are hurting. I think there's something there that overlaps with the way the whole country suffered in the disaster," Murakami said.
The novel also touches on the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938 and the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.
"History is made of collective memories, and it's wrong to forget them or alter them," Murakami said. That is one of his core beliefs.
"I think collective memory is something every person must bear," he said, adding that historical revisionist movements "must be resisted through storytelling."
Murakami said he feels a strong sense of alarm at xenophobia both in Japan and overseas.
"The idea that the world would be a better place if we just get rid of what's foreign...that's got to be the same as what we call ethnic cleansing," he said.
He looks pessimistically upon Japan's current situation. The bursting of the asset bubble of the 1980s was followed by a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by followers of a religious cult in 1995, a stream of deadly and destructive earthquakes and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"We don't know where to look for salvation," Murakami said. But people's trust in stories has remained unshaken. "I think that if you write a good story, it has some kind of power. I believe in the power of storytelling."
He thinks that longer novels lie on the opposite end of the spectrum from Twitter and Facebook.
"That's why I want to write things you can't put down once you've started reading them, things you want to read all over again once you've finished," he said. "For that, you need works that can pull readers in, and stories with depth."
At the end of "Killing Commendatore," the protagonist comes back to his family home after nine months away and finds his wife has given birth to a child, whom he then accepts as his own. This emphasizes the "power of trust."
"I hadn't written about families until now, but this time, I wrote a story that ends with a family beginning to function," Murakami said.
"I don't have children, but I do have the thought that I'd like someone to carry on something," he said. "And now that I'm at the age where I wonder how many more novels I can write, I'm getting stronger feelings about what I will leave behind."
Murakami also divulged some of the secrets of his creativity.
"I chase after narratives when I write, like Alice chased after the White Rabbit. If I take my eye off him, the rabbit will disappear, so I just keep running," he said.
He described writing as a "lifelong condition" and that his "attitude to writing novels is that of a storyteller in prehistoric times, when we lived in caves."
"At night, people would gather around the fire and say 'All right Murakami, give us a story.' Everyone would listen through excitement, laughter and tears. To me, my readers are the people who sit with me around the fire," he said.