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Posts Tagged ‘Haruki Murakami’

It’s a pretty weird thing to do to climb down a well when you’re feeling confused about life, but at least it makes sense. Some sort of sense, anyway. It makes less sense to calmly trap somebody when they’re down a well, taking away the ladder and covering up the opening. Doing that is even weirder. At least climbing down a well is harmless. Toru Okada doesn’t bother anyone. He’s a pretty normal guy, too, spending his days cooking and searching for his cat. (That’s how he ends up meeting May.) Still, people always find him strange. May Kasahara (who calls him “Mister Wind-Up Bird”) finds him especially so. Which is funny, since she’s far from normal. May doesn’t play a pivotal role in the plot, but she’s always there, with her dreamy reveries about death and duck people. She doesn’t really do anything (the first time we see her, she’s enjoying a mellow summer day), but her presence is important, for Toru Okada as well as the reader.

Murakami seems to enjoy writing about strange teenage girls as much as he does apparently normal adult men. The same sort of character appears again in Dance Dance Dance and 1Q84, though neither are quite like May. The former is younger, and a bit more argumentative, while the latter is kind of like Rei Ayanami. Murakami isn’t an expert when it comes to writing women (at times, it makes me uneasy), but for all their flaws, I still like these characters.

 

 

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A young girl emerges from a cocoon to find herself in an idyllic, yet enigmatic town which seems to be a sort of afterlife. She has no memories of anything before this, apart from the dream she had of falling while in the cocoon. The girl finds herself among a small community of winged beings named Haibane, who inform her that she is one of them. She is given the name Rakka, which means “falling”, as all of the Haibane are named after their cocoon dreams. Soon, she sprouts wings too, and is given a halo, which somehow hovers over her head. (Even if it does cause strands of her hair to stick up messily.) The scene where Rakka gains her wings is strangely cathartic. It’s bloody, and it’s obvious that Rakka is going through great pain, yet this is accompanied by beautiful music, with Reki, the second-eldest Haibane, staying by Rakka’s side the whole time to help and soothe her.

This scene gives you a good idea of what Haibane Renmei can be like. For the most part, it’s calm and gentle, but it’s never the sort of series to deny the existence of darker things. It’s not that the world Rakka finds herself in is a dystopia disguised as a utopia; the town genuinely is a nice place to live in. However, there are some aspects to the setting that are puzzling, and even unsettling. It is never explained what is beyond the walls of the town, or why the Haibanes can never leave. There are strange taboos they have to abide by, and while they coexist peacefully with humans, there seems to be a sort of distance between them. In some ways, it reminds me of real life, in that we are brought into a society that we did not choose to belong to, with rules and boundaries so rigidly constructed that we can never break them. The difference is that we enter that society as babies, and are brought up to take all of that for granted. The Haibane may have no memories of their past lives (if they even had past lives), but all the main characters are old enough to already have formed ideas of what is normal. The town itself is like what you’d get if you applied the idea of mukokuseki to a setting rather than to a character. It would be hard to place it within any set time period or culture; it’s the sort of vague place where you know that something isn’t right, but there are too many familiar elements to pinpoint what it is.

Haibane Renmei is the creation of Yoshitoshi ABe, one of my favourite artists thanks to his character designs and other work for Serial Experiments Lain, the greatest work of fiction ever made. (I am a little bit obsessed with Lain.) Both series have many things in common, though I’m afraid that after Serial Experiments Lain, I found Haibane Renmei slightly disappointing. ABe’s designs are beautiful, as always, but his detailed artwork doesn’t translate well to the style of animation used here. Compare the two images below:

While the animation is still nice, it looks a little flat when put next to the original artwork. The animation used in Lain wasn’t perfect either, but its use of darkness and shadows gave it more of a texture. Haibane Renmei is a far more light-hearted series, with most of it taking place during the daytime, so visually, it loses that sense of depth. And while it is slow-paced, it never quite reaches the same level of subtlety as Lain. While I mostly enjoyed its combination of slice-of-life humour and the supernatural (I found it kind of similar to Xxxholic), it sometimes resorted to anime conventions that kind of took away from its tone.

The creators of the show were apparently influenced by Haruki Murakami’s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. (Which happens to be the first of his books that I read.) Half of the book took place inside the protagonist’s mind, in a walled fantasy world constructed in his dreams. The other half  takes place in a dark, slightly futuristic world that reminds me of Serial Experiments Lain. This makes me wonder if maybe the connection between the two series is more than just a stylistic or thematic one. Crows are used as a motif in both series, Rakka and Lain  are similar in both appearance and personality, while Hyoko and Midori are basically just older versions of Taro and Myu-Myu. Maybe Haibane Renmei is just an alternate reality created by Lain Iwakura. The only problem with that theory is that Alice seems to be absent from it. Reki, the older, caring character who develops a strong friendship with Rakka, is in some ways similar to Alice, but then there are other ways in which they are different, and I cannot imagine Lain wanting to exist in a world without Alice. Unless, of course, the crow is meant to be Alice.

While it has its flaws, Haibane Renmei is still wonderful. (The final episode is especially good.) It’s also commendable for its depiction of female characters. Most of the main characters are young women, all of whom are treated as people rather than objects. Some of them are quite androgynous, but are still comfortable in their femininity. The tomboyish Kana is just as much a girl as the more traditionally feminine Hikari. In fact, it’s never even treated as an issue or anything, with the other characters seeing this as totally normal. So, while the world we are presented with does seem to be in some ways a problematic one (if I found myself there, I’d probably start to feel like everything is pointless), living there also has many positive aspects, too.

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Out of all of Murakami’s short stories, this one is my favourite. (Out of his novels, my favourite is Kafka on the Shore.) It’s been years since I’ve read it, and there’s many parts that I’ve forgotten, but its residue is there. It was one of those stories that perfectly captured a mood I wasn’t even aware I was searching for yet. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, and I found it hard to describe, but a new obsession had been  awakened in me. After reading this story (and others like it) I wanted more of its aesthetic. I guess it’s the sort of feeling you’d generally associate with Magic Realism. Even though On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning isn’t a Magic Realist story itself, most of Murakami’s stories are, and so it does have the atmosphere of one. In Magic Realism, strange things gently become part of everyday life. This story is about normality, with the suggestion of ambiguity.

One of my favourite things to do is wander around cities and watch people from a distance. There’s something nice about seeing ordinary people doing ordinary things. Unfortunately, I don’t live in a city, so my chances to do this are rare. Recently, though, I got to go to London for a few days, and spent almost the whole time there walking and watching. Sometimes, I was struck by how perfect certain people looked. By that, I don’t mean their appearance was flawless; rather, they just looked like they were perfectly suited to living an ordinary life in the city. They were boring, but not in a negative way. Whenever I see people like that, I wish I could be them, or at least be like them. And this short story reminds me of those people.

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“I often dream about the Dolphin Hotel.”

This is one of Haruki Murakami’s lighter novels. I don’t mean that as a bad thing- it has a lot the usual Murakami tropes and themes, it just isn’t as heavy as some of his other works. it’s a sequel to another of his books, A Wild Sheep Chase, but I’d advise against reading that, as not an awful lot happens in it until the end. (But if you do want to read it, I’d advise against finishing this post, as there may be spoilers ahead.) Basically, in the preceding book, the nameless protagonist, along with his perfect-eared girlfriend goes on a journey to find a sheep with supernatural powers. On the way, they stay in the Dolphin Hotel, which is where the main character returns to now. Only it isn’t the same place. It still has the same name, but it’s completely different. Yet there’s still something unusual about it. Traces still remain of the old hotel. Especially on the sixteenth floor. And once again, we encounter the Sheepman.

I enjoyed reading this book. I liked its slow, meditative pacing and quiet feel. It isn’t as strange as some of his other books, and it often takes some time before anything strange even happens at all. But there always remains a dreamlike quality to it, as these moments leave their mark on the rest of the story. Also, there is no explanation for the whys and hows of these events. They are mysterious and chilling. This isn’t really a book with a straightforward beginning, middle and end; instead, ’tis more of a slice-of-life with the occasional odd occurence every now and then. The narrator is searching for his girlfriend, who abandoned him in the previous novel, and that kind of sums up for me what this book is mostly about. Searching for something, but not being able to find it.

[youtube.com/watch?v=mbxQ9bvdZgU]

4/5- A very good work of fantasy literature.

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Something I really don’t like is when I read a review of a book saying how weird and surreal it is, only to read it myself and be very disappointed. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it still happens way more often than I’d like. The best example of this sort of thing is with Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite authors and has written Kafka on the Shore, one of the best novels I have ever had the pleasure to read. However, while he is capable of writing books that are both captivatingly beautiful and mesmerisingly surreal, he is also capable of writing novels that are quite frankly disappointing. A Wild Sheep Chase was described by all the reviews I read as a very bizarre and strange novel. While dubious, I gave it a go. I was disappointed. It only actually got weird towards the very very end. In my opinion, it was more like an extended short story than an actual novel. I wish it was a short story, because that would actually be really good. It just astounds me how everyone could find it so weird. IT’S ABOUT A FRIKKIN’ SHEEP! Most of the book is spent by the narrator and his perfect-eared girlfriend searching for a sheep with supernatural powers of some sort. Nothing interesting happens during all of this. However, there are two pieces of good news: 1) The ending itself is very good, 2)The sequel is much better. So every cloud has a silver lining (that’s what I should do my next post about: clouds!). Another book that was like this was the excellent “Kensington Gardens”. However, while it may not have been “extraordinarily surreal” as the quote on the cover put it, it is still a great book and I’m thinking of putting it on my Top 42 Odd Books list.

So anyway, the reason I think this problem exists is simply due to the lack of imagination in a lot of people. And another thing that comes from this that really bothers me is how many see a work being surreal as a bad thing. Often in reviews there will be phrases like “good, but weird” or “it was too bizarre”. Doesn’t the strangeness just make the book better?

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So, it seems that one of Haruki Murakami’s novels, Norwegian Wood, has been adapted into a film. I’ve never actually read that one, having only read his surrealist works such as Kafka on the Shore and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I really hope the former gets made into a film some day, as it genuinely desrves it. But I suppose the world isn’t ready for a film as great as that.

Another unconventional author who’s getting a book of his adapted for the big screen is Irish novelist Flann O’Brien (who used to know someone in my extended family, as a matter of fact). Brendan Gleeson shall be directing his meta-fictional work At Swim-Two-Birds. While good, I’d feel a better novel to adapt would be his Daliesque masterpiece The Third Policeman, one of my all-time favourite books. But more on that in a later post.

Now, as you may have guessed, the title to Murakami’s book comes from a Beatles song of the same name:

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