A Dreamily Animated Introduction to Haruki Murakami, Japan’s Jazz and Baseball-Loving Postmodern Novelist

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”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read 6 Sto­ries By Haru­ki Muraka­mi Free Online

Pat­ti Smith Reviews Haru­ki Murakami’s New Nov­el, Col­or­less Tsuku­ru Taza­ki and His Years of Pil­grim­age

Haru­ki Murakami’s Pas­sion for Jazz: Dis­cov­er the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

A 56-Song Playlist of Music in Haru­ki Murakami’s Nov­els: Ray Charles, Glenn Gould, the Beach Boys & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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