Haruki Murakami's hypnotic novels are both entirely Japanese and entirely globalby Pico Iyer / August 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Harvill Secker, £20)
The whole story of Japan today, I sometimes think, could be told through the two master artists whose initials are HM. Hayao Miyazaki, the exquisite animator behind films like Spirited Away and, most recently, The Wind Rises, is trying, with passionate urgency, to highlight and preserve those spirits that are ever more imperilled in the Japanese countryside; his is a teeming Shinto world in which every last blade of grass is lit up with kamisama, or local deities. Haruki Murakami, by comparison, speaks for a world in which all traditional magic is gone; the characters in his novels can order pizza in Helsinki, sip “Napa Cabernet Sauvignon” at home, buy duty-free Yves Saint-Laurent ties and transport their friends with renditions of Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight,” but they can’t for the life of them remember who they are or where they’re going.
Both contemporaries are clearly responding to the question that has long haunted Japan: how to take in the stuff of the west without importing its values and losing one’s soul? But where Miyazaki is trying to shake his country into wakefulness, Murakami dreams up floating, hypnotic tales of sleepwalkers for whom the unreal has more life than reality. Miyazaki’s vision has the feel of the 8th century Japanese capital of Nara, near which I’ve lived for more than 20 years, where deer roam free among 1,300-year-old temples, four-story pagodas and wild plum groves. Murakami serves up the generic, mock-Californian suburb in which my apartment is located, Japanese mostly in its lack of clasically Japanese features.
Both artists, of course, have won huge global followings. These days Miyazaki’s animation studio, Studio Ghibli—whose films include Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away—is as strong a brand as Sony or Toyota. And everyone I know, from Istanbul to New Delhi, seems to be devouring Murakami (in part because his books are as easily translated—and consumed—as bottled water). But the two are coming at the issue of…