"There's no such thing as perfect writing, just like there's no such thing as perfect despair." -- Haruki Murakami
is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize for his novel Kafka on the Shore.
He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature, and is one of the most notable Japanese artists since Akira Kurosawa. The Guardian praised him as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievements.
"Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that's how we've got to live.""I am 55 years old now. It takes three years to write one book. I don't know how many books I will be able to write before I die. It is like a countdown. So with each book I am praying - please let me live until I am finished.""I didn't want to be a writer, but I became one. And now I have many readers, in many countries. I think that's a miracle. So I think I have to be humble regarding this ability. I'm proud of it and I enjoy it, and it is strange to say it this way, but I respect it.""I lost some of my friends because I got so famous, people who just assumed that I would be different now. I felt like everyone hated me. That is the most unhappy time of my life.""In Japan they prefer the realistic style. They like answers and conclusions, but my stories have none. I want to leave them wide open to every possibility. I think my readers understand that openness.""It is hard to be an individual in Japan.""Most young people were getting jobs in big companies, becoming company men. I wanted to be individual.""When I write about a 15-year old, I jump, I return to the days when I was that age. It's like a time machine. I can remember everything. I can feel the wind. I can smell the air. Very actually. Very vividly.""You are 27 or 28 right? It is very tough to live at that age. When nothing is sure. I have sympathy with you."
Murakami was born in Japan during the Post-World War II baby boom. Although born in Kyoto, he spent his youth in Shukugawa (Nishinomiya), Ashiya and Kobe. His father was the son of a Buddhist priest, and his mother the daughter of an Osaka merchant. Both taught Japanese literature.
Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.
Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse (jazz bar, in the evening) "Peter Cat" in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife. They ran the bar from 1974 until 1981.
Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera overture), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).
Murakami is a keen marathon runner and triathlete, although he did not start running until he was 33 years old. On June 23, 1996, he completed his first ultramarathon, a 100-kilometer race around Lake Saroma in Hokkaido, Japan. He discusses his relationship with running in his 2008 work What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
"Trilogy of the Rat"
Murakami wrote his first fiction when he was 29. He said he was inspired to write his first novel, 1979's Hear the Wind Sing, while watching a baseball game. In 1978, Murakami was in Jingu Stadium watching a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that Hilton hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night. Murakami worked on it for several months in very brief stretches after working days at the bar. He completed a novel and sent it to the only literary contest that would accept a work of that length, and won first prize.
Murakami's initial success with Hear the Wind Sing encouraged him to continue writing. A year later, he published Pinball, 1973, a sequel. In 1982, he published A Wild Sheep Chase, a critical success. Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase form the "Trilogy of the Rat" (a sequel, Dance, Dance, Dance, was written later but is not considered part of the series), centered on the same unnamed narrator and his friend, "the Rat". The first two novels are unpublished in English translation outside of Japan, where an English edition with extensive translation notes was published as part of a series intended for English students. Murakami considers his first two novels to be "weak," and was not eager to have them translated into English. A Wild Sheep Chase was "The first book where I could feel a kind of sensation, the joy of telling a story. When you read a good story, you just keep reading. When I write a good story, I just keep writing."
In 1985, Murakami wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a dream-like fantasy that takes the magical elements in his work to a new extreme.
Murakami achieved a major breakthrough and national recognition in 1987 with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. It sold millions of copies among Japanese youths, making Murakami a literary superstar in his native country. The book was printed in two separate volumes, sold together, so that the number of books sold actually doubled, creating the million-copy bestseller hype. One book had a green cover, the other one red.
In 1986, Murakami left Japan, traveled throughout Europe, and settled in the United States. He was a writing fellow at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. During this time he wrote South of the Border, West of the Sun and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
An established novelist
In 1994-1995, he published The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a novel that fuses realistic and fantastic tendencies, and contains elements of physical violence. It is also more socially conscious than his previous work, dealing in part with the difficult topic of war crimes in Manchuria (Manchukuo). The novel won the Yomiuri Prize, awarded by one of his harshest former critics, Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.
The processing of collective trauma soon became an important theme in Murakami's writing, which had until then been more personal in nature. While he was finishing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Japan was shaken by the Kobe earthquake and the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack, in the aftermath of which he returned to Japan. He came to terms with these events with his first work of non-fiction, Underground, and the short story collection after the quake. Underground consists largely of interviews of victims of the gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system.
English translations of many of his short stories written between 1983 and 1990 have been collected in The Elephant Vanishes. Murakami has also translated many of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, John Irving, and Paul Theroux, among others, into Japanese.
In 2006, Murakami became the sixth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize from the Czech Republic for his novel Umibe no Kafuka (Kafka on the Shore).
In September 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ličge, as well as one from Princeton University in June 2008.
In January 2009 Murakami received the Jerusalem Prize, a biennial literary award given to writers whose work has dealt with themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. There were protests in Japan and elsewhere against his attending the February award ceremony in Israel (including threats to boycott his work) as a response against Israel's recent bombing of Gaza. Murakami chose to attend the ceremony, but gave a speech to the gathered Israeli dignitaries harshly criticizing Israeli policies. Murakami said, "Each of us possesses a tangible living soul. The system has no such thing. We must not allow the system to exploit us."
Sputnik Sweetheart was first published in 1999. Kafka on the Shore was published in 2002, with the English translation following in 2005. The English version of his novel After Dark was released in May 2007. It was chosen by the New York Times as a "notable book of the year". In late 2005, Murakami published a collection of short stories titled T?ky? Kitansh?, or ?????, which translates loosely as "Mysteries of Tokyo". A collection of the English versions of twenty-four short stories, titled Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, was published in August 2006. This collection includes both older works from the 1980s as well as some of Murakami's most recent short stories, including all five that appear in T?ky? Kitansh?.
Murakami recently published an anthology called Birthday Stories, which collects short stories on the theme of birthdays by Russell Banks, Ethan Canin, Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, Claire Keegan, Andrea Lee, Daniel Lyons, Lynda Sexson, Paul Theroux, and William Trevor, as well as a story by Murakami himself.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, containing tales about his experience as a marathon runner and a triathlete, has been published in Japan, with English translations released in the U.K. and the U.S. The title is a play on that of Raymond Carver's collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Shinchosha Publishing published Murakami's newest novel, 1Q84, in Japan on May 29, 2009. 1Q84 is pronounced as 'ichi ky? hachi yon', the same as 1984, as 9 is also pronounced as 'ky?' in Japanese.
Murakami's fiction, often criticized by Japan's literary establishment, is humorous and surreal, and at the same time digresses on themes of alienation and loneliness. Through his work, he was able to capture the spiritual emptiness of his generation and explore the negative effects of Japan's work-dominated mentality. His writing criticizes the decline in human values and a loss of connection among people in Japan's society.
Murakami was awarded the 2007 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction for his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, but according to the Kiriyama Official Website, Murakami "declined to accept the award for reasons of personal principle".
Murakami's first novel Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no uta o kike) was adapted by Japanese director Kazuki ?mori. The film was released in 1981 and distributed by Art Theatre Guild.
Naoto Yamakawa directed two short films Attack on the Bakery (released in 1982) and A Girl, She is 100 Percent (released in 1983), based on Murakami's short stories The Second Bakery Attack and On Seeing the 100% Perfect Woman One Beautiful April Morning respectively.
Japanese director Jun Ichikawa adapted Murakami's short story Tony Takitani into a 75-minute feature. The film played at various film festivals and was released in New York and Los Angeles on July 29, 2005. The original short story (as translated by Jay Rubin) is available in the April 15, 2002 issue of The New Yorker, as a stand-alone book published by Cloverfield Press, and part of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Knopf.
In 1998 the German film Der Eisbaer (Polar Bear), written and directed by Granz Henman, used elements of Murakami's short story The Second Bakery Attack in three intersecting story lines.
Murakami's work was also adapted for the stage in a 2003 play entitled The Elephant Vanishes, co-produced by Britain's Complicite company and Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre. The production, directed by Simon McBurney, adapted three of Murakami's short stories and received acclaim for unique blending of multimedia (video, music, and innovative sound design) with actor-driven physical theater (mime, dance, and even acrobatic wire work). On tour, the play was performed in Japanese, with supertitles translation for European and American audience.
Two stories from Murakami's book after the quake...Honey Pie and Superfrog Saves Tokyo... have been adapted for the stage and directed by Frank Galati. Entitled after the quake, the play was first performed at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in association with La Jolla Playhouse, and opened on October 12, 2007 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. In 2008, Galati adapted and directed a theatrical version of Kafka on the Shore also first running at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater from September to November.
On Max Richter's 2006 album Songs from Before, Robert Wyatt reads passages from Murakami's novels.
In 2007, Robert Logevall adapted All God's Children Can Dance into a film, with a soundtrack composed by American jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9.
In 2008, Tom Flint adapted On Seeing the 100% Perfect Woman One Beautiful April Morning into a short film. The film was screened at the 2008 CON-CAN Movie Festival. The film was viewed, voted, and commented upon as part of the audience award for the movie festival.
It was announced in July 2008 that French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung would direct an adaptation of Murakami's novel, Norwegian Wood. The film will be released in 2010.
In 2010, Stephen Earnhart adapted The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle into a 2 hour multimedia stage presentation. The show opened January 12, 2010 as part of the Public Theater's "Under the Radar" festival at the Ohio Theater, presented in association with The Asia Society and the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The presentation incorporates live actors, video projection, traditional Japanese puppetry, and immersive soundscapes to render the surreal landscape of the original work.
Truman Capote - A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, Breakfast at Tiffany's, I Remember Grandpa, Children on Their Birthdays
Raymond Carver - All Works of Raymond Carver
Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely, The Long Goodbye
Bill Crow - Jazz Anecdotes, From Birdland to Broadway
Terry Farish - The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup
F. Scott Fitzgerald - My Lost City, The Great Gatsby
Jim Fusilli - The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds
Mikal Gilmore - Shot in the Heart
Mark Helprin - Swan Lake
John Irving - Setting Free the Bears
Ursula K. Le Guin - Catwings, Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, Jane on her Own
Tim O'Brien - The Nuclear Age, The Things They Carried, July, July
Grace Paley - Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, The Little Disturbances of Man
J. D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
Mark Strand - Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories
Paul Theroux - World's End and Other Stories
Chris Van Allsburg - The Polar Express, The Wretched Stone, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Ben's Dream, Two Bad Ants, The Sweetest Fig, The Window's Broom, The Stranger, The Wreck of the Zephyer, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi