Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Two sides of the same coin: A look into the works of Haruki and Ryu Murakami

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey on Flickr

Two sides of the same coin: A look into the works of Haruki and Ryu Murakami

Dee Huang

When people think of contemporary writers from Japan everyone`s mind turn to one man - Haruki Murakami. Haruki`s influence throughout the literary world is far-reaching. He`s won multiple awards and has received critical acclaim for his works both in Japan and internationally. His uncanny and subtle flair for writing and his unique ability to capture the magic in everyday life along with the fantastical has garnered Murakami-san a large cult following which has now spread into the mainstream. However there is another writer by the name of Ryu Murakami who, despite perhaps being lesser known, has just as much of an impact on avid readers as Haruki does. Both writers use Japan as a backdrop in weaving engrossing narratives, which explore a wide range of themes covering love and longing, growing older, sense of belonging and of course...Cats! They each provide their own commentary on economics, politics and social issues within Japan along with Japan`s relation to the rest of the world, and its credit to both writers ability in making these topics relatable to international readers.


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Haruki Murakami`s works include "Norwegian Wood", "Dance, Dance, Dance" "IQ84" and "Kafka by the Shore". What shines through the most in his writing is just how self-aware he is. He started writing in his 30`s on a whim and has maintained that he never sees himself as an accomplished writer. While his ability to create absurdist mysteries whilst grounding his characters in reality is a unique ability, Haruki is careful to never cross the line into showboating. He creates suspense and tension effortlessly throughout his novels by grounding his characters in a world that is familiar to his readers - his novels are littered with landmarks, places and stores that exist in the real world. His attention to detail is extraordinary and is a tribute to how aware he is of himself and his surroundings. A hallmark Haruki is known for is all the popular, literary and musical references he makes in his novels. Not only do they flesh out and add to the world that Haruki painstakingly creates, but also are a tribute to the influences that have helped to shape him as a person and as a writer. References to The Beatles (Norwegian Wood) The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles to writers such as Franz Kafka and Jack Kerouac can all be found Murakami's novels but they never air on the side of pretentiousness. Murakami's obvious love for the people that inspire him is evident, and as a reader you can't help but just marvel at the amount of popular culture Murakami has been able to absorb and it only helps to motivate you to go back and familiarize yourself with the influences that have so deeply affected Haruki. His protagonists - usually unremarkable young or middle-aged men each grappling with their own versions of existentialism, are just vessels for the reader to experience the world Haruki creates. Their inner monologues feel honest. The way they deal with the problems at hand are thought through with rationale, their interactions with other characters feel very much like real world interactions and is again indicative of just how self aware Mr Murakami is of himself. The way his protagonists deal with issues such as friendship, love, sex and money feel very true. In "Dance, Dance, Dance", Haruki spends a majority of the novel explaining the every day routine of the protagonist - what he ate for lunch, the kind of groceries he bought, where he bought them from and how he prepared them. Yet the narrative itself is anything but ordinary. The way the fantastical events unfold in the novel and how they are able to so suddenly grip you completely blindside the reader and its this intangible element which makes Haruki truly special.


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Ryū Murakami, born on Feburary 19, 1952 is a Japanese Novelist and Filmaker. Much like Haruki, Ryu deals with themes such as belonging, disillusion and surrealism but his novels often hit a much darker, bleaker and more nihilistic note than Haruki's. His most noticeable works are "Into the Miso Soup" "Coin Locker Babies" and "Almost Transparent Blue". His works have also been adapted into feature films. "Audition" a film about a documentary maker who loses his wife and holds fake auditions for young women to be in a feature film, who unknowingly actually audition to be his next romantic interest, was directed by Takeshi Miike and has become a huge cult hit amongst cinema goers. Ryu's works often tackle issues of sexuality, a subject once thought to be taboo in Japan. "Almost Transparent Blue", Ryu's first short novel deals with the lives of a group of young, disenfranchised college students who become entangled in a cycle of sex, drugs, alcohol and promiscuity. Ryu show's these students dealing with adolescence, acceptance and normality in a society wrapped up in a bubble economy, where spending and opulence is the norm. Like Haruki, Ryu infuses references from the time period to make the world come alive. In a world where there is seemingly so much stimulation, these students seem to struggle to find anything real, an authentic experience. Mixed together with Japan's traditionally conservative and authoritarian social structure, Ryu manages to craft a beautiful piece of work which captures a very subtle and minute feeling in the reader, a feeling of melancholy - blue. The results are truly heartbreaking.


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Where some critics may say that at the core of Haruki's writing the narrative and plot structure remain largely similar, the same cannot be said about Ryu's. All his short stories are wildly imaginative and they are all take their own twists and turns, largely at the disregard of the reader. "Into the Miso Soup" may perhaps be his most well-known work and on the surface may just look like an average "who done it" murder mystery. However, Ryu provides a surprisingly deep analysis and commentary into Gaijin culture in Japan - Japans perceptions on foreigners and its relationships with foreign nationals. He also takes a look into Japans relationship with sex as a society. "Into the Miso Soup" is set in Kabuki-cho, a renowned entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku, and it's here where one can find a store to tailor to even the most niche tastes. All of this is told through a murder mystery novel, the result of which is the perfect summary into the kind of writer Ryu is.


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