Why Should You Read Haruki Murakami? An Animated Video on His “Epic Literary Puzzle” Kafka on the Shore Makes the Case

Haru­ki Murakami’s vast inter­na­tion­al fan base includes peo­ple ded­i­cat­ed to lit­er­a­ture. It also includes peo­ple who have bare­ly cracked any books in their lives — apart, that is, from Murakami’s nov­els with their dis­tinc­tive mix­ture of the light­heart­ed with the grim and the mun­dane with the uncan­ny. Since the pub­li­ca­tion of his first nov­el, Hear the Wind Sing, 40 years ago in his native Japan, Muraka­mi has become both a lit­er­ary phe­nom­e­non and an extra-lit­er­ary phe­nom­e­non, and dif­fer­ent read­ers endorse dif­fer­ent paths into his unique tex­tu­al realm.

The TED-Ed video above makes the case for one fan favorite in par­tic­u­lar: 2002’s Kaf­ka on the Shore, an “epic lit­er­ary puz­zle filled with time trav­el, hid­den his­to­ries, and mag­i­cal under­worlds. Read­ers delight in dis­cov­er­ing how the mind-bend­ing imagery, whim­si­cal char­ac­ters and eerie coin­ci­dences fit togeth­er.” So says the video’s nar­ra­tor, read­ing from a les­son writ­ten by lit­er­ary schol­ar Iseult Gille­spie (who has also made cas­es for Charles Dick­ens, Vir­ginia Woolf, and Ray Brad­bury).

Muraka­mi tells this sto­ry, and keeps it fresh through more than 500 pages, by alter­nat­ing between two point-of-view char­ac­ters: a teenag­er “des­per­ate to escape his tyran­ni­cal father and the fam­i­ly curse he feels doomed to repeat,” who “renames him­self Kaf­ka after his favorite author and runs away from home,” and an old man with “a mys­te­ri­ous knack for talk­ing to cats.”

When the lat­ter is com­mis­sioned to use his unusu­al skill to track down a lost pet, “he’s thrown onto a dan­ger­ous path that runs par­al­lel to Kafka’s.” Soon, “prophe­cies come true, por­tals to dif­fer­ent dimen­sions open up — and fish and leech­es begin rain­ing from the sky.” But it’s all of a piece with Murakami’s body of work, with its nov­els and sto­ries that “often forge fan­tas­tic con­nec­tions between per­son­al expe­ri­ence, super­nat­ur­al pos­si­bil­i­ties, and Japan­ese his­to­ry.” His “ref­er­ences to West­ern soci­ety and Japan­ese cus­toms tum­ble over each oth­er, from lit­er­a­ture and fash­ion to food and ghost sto­ries.”

All of it comes tied togeth­er with threads of music: “As the run­away Kaf­ka wan­ders the streets of a strange city, Led Zep­pelin and Prince keep him com­pa­ny,” and he lat­er befriends a librar­i­an who “intro­duces him to clas­si­cal music like Schu­bert.” Safe to say that such ref­er­ences put some dis­tance between Murakami’s work and that of his char­ac­ter Kafka’s favorite writer, to whom Muraka­mi him­self has been com­pared. Kaf­ka on the Shore show­cas­es Murakami’s sto­ry­telling sen­si­bil­i­ty, but is it in any sense Kafkaesque? You’ll have plen­ty more ques­tions after tak­ing the plunge into Murakami’s real­i­ty, but there’s anoth­er TED-Ed les­son that might at least help you answer that one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Read 6 Sto­ries By Haru­ki Muraka­mi Free Online

What Does “Kafkaesque” Real­ly Mean? A Short Ani­mat­ed Video Explains

Why Should We Read Charles Dick­ens? A TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Makes the Case

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Why Should We Read Vir­ginia Woolf? A TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Makes the Case

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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