Just finished writing a paper on "Underground," then I realized that I took that class just to write a paper on a Murakami novel.
Somehow the Murakami world is so embedded in my subconscious that sometimes I tend to perceive my world through the tinted lense of "Murakamism." I don't know how to describe that, but it is a detachment, a sense of voluntary suspension for strangeness in life, and most importantly, the desire to cross over to "the other side".
Looking at his universal achievements, Americans love Murakami very often because of its references to American culture and references to Jazz and Rock. At least that was the stigma of it in Japan, Japanese finds it a little too pop, too western. We all know that "Norwegian wood" is a Beatle song,though I could hardly relate that song to the significance of the novel. One New York Times article says that Murakami was not as recognized in Japan as in America. While the Japanese finds his American references as almost a sell out, Murakami appears to me a very nationalistic writer. Projects that he took on revolved around Japanese culture and history; for instances, non-fiction "Underground" and " After the quake" were devoted to represent the Tokyo gas attack and the Kobe Earthquake with the sympathy of a novelist and with the urgency and determination of a breaking news reporter. " The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" explored the Japanese Army in WWII. I imagine it must take immense courage to admit what the Japanese Army did in Nanking and told the story from a Japanese soldier's perspective, while textbooks in Japan still try to cover up the incident.
The fact is that Murakami is recieving the same recognition in lots of Asian countries and even Europe. What that means is that, though Americanized in a way, there is something in his stories that connect to people regardless of one's ethnicity. I did not go into Murakami's novel to pick up references to America. I usually buy one of his book, devote one whole day for it, hopefully it is a rainy day and then curl myself up and read from start to finish, only to find a lost of words in the end, relunctant to be thrown back to the reality. I think what really strike people is that sense of possibility that extraordinary event can happen on an ordinary day and thus change someone's life forever. It all start from an ordinary day, some guy listening to music, some couple cooking pasta, watching baseball. Always an ordinary day, until someone finds the entrance to " the other side."
As developed city dwellers, we are so bored with life that we crave for that "other side, "hoping it will just swallow us up into something fantastic. And we don't care if this dream is nightmarish or erotic, as long as we can just blink and make our office desk or GPA disappear. We hope for a little fantasy that is as accessible as a hot dog stand, who knows, in the Murakami world, that hot dog vendor might be the unlikely bouncer to your subconscious.
And the sex, of course. No one talk about sex in Murakami's novel as if it is not important, even though i knew people who will just skip to those pages. The sex is usually very blatant, sometimes twisted, mostly very confessional and to me, heartbreakingly beautiful and brutal at the same time. I remember being blown away by Miu's hair turning white over night in Sputnik Lover, upon witnessing her husband violently fucking herself in a room. I remember from Kafka on the Shore, a girl spread her legs in front of her late father's shrine, only to show him what she has become because he has a right to know what he had created. Not to forget the vision of a naked woman kneeling at the moon light( it was in Norwegian wood, Kafka on the shore, sputnik lover and I am sure more...). I was always just as puzzled as the character who perceive the sight. It screams something about the subconsciou, but I cant figure that out.
Finally, what was that about Colonel Sanders, Johnie Walker, Norwegian Wood, baseball and Jazz? Sometimes I think the western world forget how globalized this world is. My parents grew up listening to Beatles, Abba,Carpenter, Rolling Stones, you name it. Likewise, American kids grew up with Sailor Moon, Ninja Turtle and Super Mario. And I am pretty sure that kids in France, Germany, China, South Africa know what Ninja Turtle or Transformer are. Culture circulate so fast that sometimes we can hardly claim and allocate an icon to one country. For instance, Transformers, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles were as important to American culture as Spider man and Disneyland. When cultural symbols become so integrated into the national psyche, it is very difficult to claim that Colonel Sanders is strictly American. we share the same cultural experience; my parent are no worse fans of Abba than any one in America. Just because you love sushi doesn't mean you love the Japanese culture, maybe you just like the taste of the vinegar mixed rice, the fresh crisp texture of raw fish and that sting of wasabi. Like wise, just because you listen to "yesterday" ten million times when your girl friend break up with you in the 60s in Singapore, doen't mean you are an American music whore.
My point is that the Western aspect of Murakami's novel is overrated and to me, American critics has wasted too much space to point out American references that I cant help but detect a smell of ethnocentricity in that interpretation. Yes, Murakami admitted that he was disillusioned in the Japanese literary world, and has very strong background in western literature, but that should not undermine his literature as a sell out, or a westerner pleasing product. To me, his novel paint this really distinct picture of Japan as a cosmopolitan, international city with strong cultural background and national pride.