In Search of Haruki Murakami: A Documentary Introduction to Japan’s Great Postmodernist Novelist

Haruki Murakami holds the titles of both the most popular novelist in Japan and the most popular Japanese novelist in the wider world. After publishing Norwegian Wood in 1987, a book often called “the Japanese Catcher in the Rye,” Murakami’s notoriety exploded to such an extent that he felt forced out of his homeland, a country whose traditional ways and — to his mind — conformist mindset never sat right with him in the first place. Though he returned to Japan in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo underground gas attacks, he remained an author shaped by his favorite foreign cultures — especially America’s. This, combined with his yearning to break from established Japanese literary norms, has generated enough international demand for his work to sell briskly in almost every language in which people read novels.

I myself once spent a month doing nothing but reading Murakami’s work, and this BBC documentary Haruki Murakami: In Search of this Elusive Writer makes a valiant attempt to capture what about it could raise such a compulsion. Rupert Edwards’ camera follows veteran presenter Alan Yentob through Japan, from the midnight Tokyo of After Hours to the snowed-in Hokkaido of A Wild Sheep Chase, in a quest to find artifacts of the supremely famous yet media-shy novelist’s imaginary world. Built around interviews with fans and translators but thick with such Murakamiana as laid-back jazz standards, grim school hallways, sixties pop hits, women’s ears, vinyl records, marathon runners, and talking cats, the broadcast strives less to explain Murakami’s substance than to simply reflect it. If you find your curiosity piqued by all the fuss over 1Q84, Murakami’s latest, you might watch it as something of an aesthetic primer.

Related content:

An Introduction to the World of Haruki Murakami Through Documentaries, Stories, Animation, Music Playlists & More

A 96-Song Playlist of Music in Haruki Murakami’s Novels: Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, the Beach Boys & More

Read 5 Stories By Haruki Murakami Free Online (For a Limited Time)

A Photographic Tour of Haruki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Memory, and Reality Meet

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (6)
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  • It’s a great documentary, is like revive de book on my pc. Congrats!

  • Shu says:

    Wonderful post, thank you very much!
    Is it possible to change “Japanese The Catcher In the Rye” to “a great novel about youth” or something like that. ” Norwegian Wood ” is a deeply warm novel VS.Catcher in the Rye is darkly satirical. Just don’t like those kind of labeling. Great works deserve independent recognitions.

  • old911guy says:

    My daughter recommended “Kafka on the Shore”. What a strange surreal book. I loved it.

  • Yayai says:

    Agree with Shu: Norwegian Wood has nothing to do with The Catcher in the Rye! Well, yes, they both have a male main character, but that’s pretty much it.

  • Faustina Lin says:

    1Q84 is not his latest, as for novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is his latest, please up-date your article.

  • Daniel says:

    An enjoyable documentary on Murakami. Almost seems like his writing helped his Japanese fans change how they interact in society. Now I’m curious as to which of his books to start with?

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