Best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murakami recently sat down for an interview with Kyodo News in April on the 40th anniversary of his debut novel "Hear the Wind Sing." This is Part 3 of the three-part interview, in which he speaks about his latest work "Killing Commendatore," the evolution of his writing style, and the growing presence of violence in social media.
Q: In "Killing Commendatore," a mysterious wealthy businessman with the unusual name of Wataru Menshiki appears. His name means "avoiding colors" so many people have been reminded of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage."
Murakami: That's right. I hadn't realized that. Menshiki is an homage to Gatsby in Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."
Q: Gatsby lives in a place where he can see Daisy's house, whom he loves. Like him, Menshiki lives in a mansion in the mountains in Odawara's outskirts where he can see the house where Mariye, presumably his daughter, lives.
Murakami: Gatsby worked his way up from poverty to a life of glitz that attracts attention because that's his goal. In contrast, Mr. Menshiki lives an ordinary, calm life. Their personalities and characters differ. I only borrowed a setting from Gatsby.
Q: Menshiki comes to ask the protagonist to paint his portrait. He says that having his portrait painted is "an exchange." An exchange of parts with each other. The protagonist makes an exchange with his dead younger sister Komichi, and Mariye feels similarly about such interactions. The word "exchange" made an impression.
Murakami: Since there are a limited number of characters, the story wouldn't stick unless they give each other something. The person who actually made the pit in the property appear is Mr. Menshiki. Without him, there would be no story in the first place.
Q: That's right. Because Menshiki is the one who called the workers to have it dug.
Murakami: In that sense, communication has a very important meaning in this story. There was not that much communication among the characters in some of my novels in the past. They were accumulations of relationships between two people. The characters were pretty much isolated and many of them did not even have names. But as I continued to write, I was gradually able to write about multiple interactions. "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" is a novel where multiple people interact with each other.
Q: "Killing Commendatore" has a limited number of characters but is characterized by the multiple communications among them.
Murakami: It is quite an important point that different people come little by little to offer each other something of themselves. Before "Norwegian Wood," many of my novels do tend to ignore function of communication. But since then, I feel that I have created worlds where people cannot live without communication.
Q: I think one of the main characteristics of "Killing Commendatore" is that it's written in the first-person narrative form, which we haven't seen in your work in a long time.
Murakami: I started out writing first-person narratives but gradually moved to the third-person narrative.
Q: Your earlier works, which are written in the first person, are impressive. But "After the Quake," a collection of stories with the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake as the backdrop, is told in the third-person narrative.
Murakami: "1Q84" is a long novel told in the third person. And once I finished writing it, I wondered again what I could create with a first-person narrator.
Q: Is there something that can be done in the first person that is difficult in the third-person narrative?
Murakami: A monologue is easier to narrate in the first person. A first-person point of view can be written simply and unaffectedly, and readers can identify with the "I" easily. If readers can do that, it makes me happy as an author.
Q: I see.
Murakami: "The Great Gatsby" is also a first-person narrative. So is Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye," which I like, and J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." They are all books that I have translated. I wonder why.
Q: At the beginning of "Killing Commendatore," it says that the protagonist and his wife have both signed and sealed their divorce papers but that they "ended up making a go of marriage one more time."
Murakami: Murakami: The main point of the novel is that the protagonist, after going around in the dark, comes back to where he was to start over, just like a Japanese religious experience called tainai meguri. I wanted to indicate that at the outset, both to the readers and to myself.
Q: This is the first novel that you write a conclusion at the beginning, isn't it?
Murakami: Yes. Until now, in many of my stories, if you lost something, you did so forever. But I decided from the start that this would be about restoration. So it was important to me to add that announcement at the beginning of the book.
Q: And you write at the end, "I will not become like Menshiki" and "That is because I am endowed with the capacity to believe."
Murakami: Mr. Menshiki does not know whether the young girl Mariye is his daughter or not.
Q: Perhaps he doesn't really want to know.
Murakami: Either to create ties with the outer world or not, he cannot decide exactly. He does not know himself whether he is committing to something or not. He seems to think that he grasps everything but in reality doesn't really understand. He keeps his balance and coolly wanders in his own limbo.
Q: The protagonist is not like that.
Murakami: The main difference between the protagonist and Mr. Menshiki is that the former loves his wife. His feelings for her don't change even after she leaves. He thinks that he would want to start again from the beginning if she returns. He seeks that kind of commitment.
Q: What makes him do that?
Murakami: It is love, of course, but more than that, the trust is important. Perhaps that is what Mr. Menshiki lacks.
Q: There is a scene where the protagonist enters the deepest abyss of his mind after killing the Commendatore. Of all such abysses that you've written about, this seems the darkest.
Murakami: I believe that there is no restoration without going through the most profound darkness. Accepting someone who has returned is forgiveness. Forgiveness is an emotion that emerges for the first time only after one goes through a very dark place and comes out on the other side.
Q: I felt the protagonist's loneliness, which accompanies physical acuteness as he made his way through the darkness.
Murakami: The sense of forgiveness is beyond distinctions like "goodness", "evil", "light" or "darkness". To obtain it, it is necessary to kill the "concept" of the Commendatore with his own hands. Only by doing so does one get "forgiveness," I feel.
Q: Your books, as is the case with "Killing Commendatore," have been translated into multiple languages and read by people in many different countries. What is it about your books, do you think, that attracts readers throughout the world?
Murakami: What surprises me when I go overseas is that there are many young readers from their teens to their 20s. This is clear when comparing them to Japanese readers. I believe that foreign readers, including these young people, are seeking some type of freedom.
My writings are not written in the so-called literary fashion but are plain and free. To put it another way, it should be handy and useful as a good tool. That characteristic probably doesn't get lost even when my books are translated.
If you learn the tricks, you can use them to freely cut out meanings from things in your surroundings or emotions. Recently I feel that foreign readers are perhaps seeking that universal sense of freedom. Of course, this is only an opinion based on my intuition.
(The interviewers are critic Yutaka Yukawa and Kyodo News senior feature writer Tetsuro Koyama)
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