If the impressionistic animation style of psychologist, writer, and filmmaker Ilana Simons‘ “About Haruki Murakami”—a short video introduction to the jazz bar owning, marathon running, Japanese novelist—puts you in mind of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, then the elliptical, lucid dream narration may do so even more. “He didn’t use too many words,” Simons tells us. “Too many words is kinda… too many words. Someone’s always losing their voice. Someone’s hearing is acute. Haruki Murakami.” Like Roger Ebert said of Linklater’s film, Simons’ ode to Murakami—and the novelist’s work itself—is “philosophical and playful at the same time.”
Simons reads us Murakami’s existentialist account of how he became a novelist, at age 29, after having an epiphany at a baseball game: “The idea struck me,” he says, “I could write a novel…. I could do it.” And he did, sitting down every night after working the bar he owned with his wife, writing by hand and drinking beer. “Before that,” he has said in an interview with singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding, “I didn’t write anything. I was just one of those ordinary people. I was running a jazz club, and I didn’t create anything at all.” And it’s true. Besides suddenly deciding to become a novelist, “out of the blue” at almost 30, then suddenly becoming an avid marathon runner at age 33, Murakami’s life was pretty unremarkable.
It’s not entirely surprising that he became a novelist. Both of Murakami’s parents taught Japanese literature, though he himself was not a particularly good student. But the author of such beloved books as Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and dozens of short stories (read six free here), has mostly drawn his inspiration from outside his national tradition—from American baseball and jazz, from British invasion rock and roll, from Fitzgerald, Kafka, and Hollywood films. As Colin Marshall wrote in a previous post on the BBC Murakami documentary below, “he remained an author shaped by his favorite foreign cultures—especially America’s. This, combined with his yearning to break from established norms, has generated enough international demand for his work to sell briskly in almost every language.”
Murakami’s desire to break with norms, Simons tells us in her charming, visually accomplished animated short, is symptomatic of his “detachment” and “introspection.” Murakami “liked escape, or he just doesn’t like joining groups and investing too many words in places where words have been too often.” The thought of “organized activities,” Murakami has said, like “holding hands at a demonstration… gives me the creeps.” Murakami’s love of solitude makes him seem mysterious, “elusive,” says presenter Alan Yentob in the film above. But one of the extraordinary things about Murakami—in addition to his running a 62-mile “ultramarathon” and conquering the literary world on a whim—is just how ordinary he is in many ways. Both Simons’ increasingly surrealist, bebop-scored short and the BBC’s cool jazz-backed exploration make this contrast seem all the more remarkable. It’s Murakami’s ability to stretch and bend the ordinary world, Simons suggests near the end of her lyrical tribute, that makes his readers feel that “somehow, magically… he does something very private and intimate with their brains”