1Q84 – brief cult comparisons

Aomame, one of Murkami’s protagonists in 1Q84, notices slight differences between the world she is in and the world she knew; one of those differences is the existence of a religious cult, Sakigake (“pioneer” or “pathfinder”). We learn that Sakigake began as a peaceful commune of about 30 members founded in 1974. However, some members with more radical ideology and split, forming the Akebono (meaning “dawn” or “daybreak”) commune. The Akebono commune was destroyed in 1981 after a shootout with Tokyo police. The Sakigake commune carried on but retreated from public eye and grew increasing private and guarded.

Murakami has also written a book (Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche) about the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attack. The religious cult was founded in 1984 but grew to notoriety after they released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways as a coordinated act of terrorism in 1995. This attack killed 13, injured 50, and caused temporary poisoning in over 5,000 others. Afterwards, the Aum Shinrikyo cult split into two factions, with the Hikari no Wa (“Circle of Rainbow Light”) group disavowing the violent actions of Aum Shinrikyo, instead focusing on their spirituality. Regardless, both groups (with Aum Shinrikyo since renamed “Aleph”) are on terrorist watch lists to this day.

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A pairing: 1Q84 and today’s supermoon

Expedition 50 Supermoon

There was just one moon. That familiar, yellow, solitary moon. The same moon that silently floated over fields of pampas grass, the moon that rose–a gleaming, round saucer–over the calm surface of lakes, that tranquilly beamed down on the rooftops of fast-asleep houses. The same moon that brought the high tide to shore, that softly shone on the fur of animals and enveloped and protected travelers at night. The moon that, as a crescent, shaved slivers from the soul–or, as a new moon, silently bathed the earth in its own loneliness. — Murakami, 1Q84

Photo credit: NASA

A Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84

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For my 21st birthday, two of my friends gave me a copy of “1Q84.” At the time, I had a lukewarm relationship with Murakami’s works.The first Murakami I read was “A Wild Sheep Chase”, and Sheepman just absolutely befuddled me. Murakami’s work was the first encounter I’d had with something this strange, without all of the loose ends tied up neatly by the end.  Today, some five years later, I am a self-professed Murakami enthusiast. While I still haven’t read all the books he’s written, I’m going through a few a year. Since I finished my reading goal six months early this year (go me!), I decided to tackle a few of the big books that I’ve always been meaning to get through. One of these big books that I’ve been intimidated of is Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” — almost a thousand pages of a surreal adventure? How exhausting!

One of my favorite parts of Murakami books is the music that he incorporates. There’s always a piece of classical music that runs throughout the course of each book, for example The Thieving Magpie in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Although much longer, 1Q84 is no different. Janacek’s “Sinfonietta” opens “1Q84” and then reappears throughout the stories. Murakami talks about why he chose “Sinfonietta” in an interview with Sam Anderson:

It is, as the book suggests, truly the worst possible music for a traffic jam: busy, upbeat, dramatic — like five normal songs fighting for supremacy inside an empty paint can. This makes it the perfect theme for the frantic, lumpy, violent adventure of “1Q84.” Shouting over the music, Murakami told me that he chose the “Sinfonietta” precisely for its weirdness. “Just once I heard that music in a concert hall,” he said. “There were 15 trumpeters behind the orchestra. Strange. Very strange. . . . And that weirdness fits very well in this book. I cannot imagine what other kind of music is fitting so well in this story.”

After Murakami has evidently put so much thought into his music selection, it’s only logical to check it out. I’ve put together a playlist inspired by 1Q84, and I’ve got to say, “Sinfonietta” is perfectly weird for a Tokyo with two moons and little people running amok. Interspersed between the different movements of Sinfonietta are other songs that are mentioned in the book.

What are your favorite songs in Murakami books? Are there other authors who use music in a similar way?

I’ve compiled playlists for two other Murakami books — I hope to make playlists for all the other ones one day.

1Q84 – a list of meals

The plain descriptions Murakami uses to show the fairly mundane details about the characters’ lives are very comforting to me. He tells us their routines, the inventory of their closets, the ingredients in their meals. The meals are often described as simple; many strike me as quite lonely. Some meals are both, and very few are neither. At any rate, I have attempted to catalog what I think is a pretty complete list of meals across all three books and rank them in order of simplicity.

“the most famous French restaurant in the city”

“Have you decided?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Ayumi said.
“So what are you going to order?”
“I’ll have the mussels, the three-onion salad, and the Bordeaux-braised Iwate veal stew. How about you?”
“I’d like the lentil soup, the warm spring green salad, and the parchment-baked monkfish with polenta. Not much of a match for a red wine, but it’s free, so I can’t complain.”
“Mind sharing a little?”
“Not at all,” Aomame saiad. “And if you don’t mind, let’s share the deep-fried shrimp to start.”

the dowager and I differ on what is simple

“A simple meal is all I can offer you, if that’s all right,” the dowager said.

The dinner consisted of boiled white asparagus, salad Nicoise, a crabmeat omelet, and rolls and butter, nothing more.

“Sorry, but these simple things are all I can make,” says Tengo, who uses the word simple lightly

Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums.

if you think this is a repetitve meal, you should know what I eat for breakfast every day

Breakfast was exactly the same every day – dried horse mackerel and fried eggs, a quartered tomato, seasoned dries seaweed, miso soup with shijimi clams, and rice – but for some reason it tasted wonderful every morning.

Tengo makes “nothing special”

Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles.

I decided to look up wakame at this point

Listening to tracks like “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane,” he made rice pilaf using ham and mushrooms and brown rice, and miso soup with tofu and wakame. He boiled cauliflower and favored it with curry sauce he prepared. He made a green bean and onion salad.

this sounds less nice when you know it is hospital food

Tengo had a salad, cooked vegetables, and miso soup with asari clams and scallions, washed down with hot hojicha tea.

Tengo is good with knives

Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. … When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame.

that’s all

The waiter came for their orders. Fuka-Eri still had her coat on. She ordered a salad and bread. “That’s all,” she said, returning the menu to the waiter.

[Tengo] ordered seafood linguine and decided to join Fuka-Eri in a glass of white wine.

curry and pie

Once the film had been processed and printed, he went to a nearby chain restaurant and looked through them in chronological order while eating a meal of chicken curry. … He called the waitress over and asked her about the day’s dessert. Peach pie, she replied. Ushikawa ordered a piece and a refill of coffee.

Ushikawa buys noodles

Then he went to a soba noodle shop and ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth.

beer and barbecue

The three nurses ate and drank a lot, and Tengo couldn’t keep up. As they got livelier, he sat beside them, quietly eating a moderate amount of grilled meat and sipping his draft beer so he didn’t get drunk.

breakfast foods for dinner

He drank some tomato juice from the fridge, boiled water, ground coffee beans and made coffee, toasted a slice of bread. He set the timer and cooked a soft-boiled egg.

Tengo gets more on my level

Tengo was hungry, so he fried some eggs and ate them with the cauliflower. He made some toast and drank two mugs of coffee.

I think the portable stove makes it sadder

He heated a can of chicken soup over a portable stove and carefully sipped it with a spoon. He ate two cold rolls, then polished off an apple, peel and all.

definitely the saddest meal

He opened a tin of corned beef, spread some on a roll, and ate it, standing up in the kitchen. He drank a container of lukewarm canned coffee. Nothing had any taste.

Tamaru’s “simple dishes”

They were simple cucumber and cheese sandwiches on brown bread, but were subtly flavored.

more wakame but a pretty lame dinner 

At five thirty he made a simple dinner. … He made a tomato and wakame salad and ate a slice of toast.

snacks that I too can make

Feeling a little hungry, she took out some Camembert, cut a wedge, and ate it with crackers. When the cheese was half gone, she washed a stalk of celery, spread it with mayonnaise, and munched it whole.

a sad description of breakfast but at least he enjoys his lunch

The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese and crackers washed down by instant coffee. … Before noon he went to the discount store near the station and bought a small electric space heater. He then went to the same noodle place he had been to before, opened his newspaper, and ate an order of hot tempura soba.

like… airplane food?

He brought my meals on a tray and then took them away when I was finished. They used paper plates and flimsy plastic knives, forks, and spoons. The food they brought was ordinary prepared food in silver foil packages – not very good, but not so bad you wouldn’t eat it.

a spartan lunch

Lunch was usually a green salad and fruit.

sometimes sandwiches

Occasionally he would have a light sandwich, but usually he ate nothing.

a hot breakfast

As he ate his hot breakfast and drank tea, Tengo went over the events of the previous night.

a plain breakfast

She made herself a pot of coffee, toasted some bread, and boiled an egg.

a simple breakfast

She got up every day at six thirty and had a simple breakfast.

 

In conclusion, I have learned that all characters (perhaps except Tamaru) have much higher standards for their food than I do.

1Q84 – the Willow house

The dowager in Murakami’s 1Q84 is a very poised and elegant lady whose business acumen has served her well. She lives in what I imagine to be a beautiful and tasteful estate called ‘the Willow House,’ though her home is really more of a mansion. I mean, it has an attached glass house just for hosting rare butterflies, a mirrored room for ballet, and a sunroom that doubles as a massage room. Through the protagonist, Aomame, we catch glimpses of other rooms and outdoor spaces in the house. Each setting seems sparsely furnished yet luxurious. After all, in urban Japan, space is a luxury.

I ran across a house on curbed that I think would be a great Willow House (if it were set in Napa Valley). It is a midcentury home built in 1962 by the architect William Thomas Brooks, and is called the Petal House 🙂 There are a lot more pictures on the curbed link and a nice description of the grounds and some architectural highlights on zillow.

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willowhouse3willowhouse6willowhouse7willowhouse10willowhouse11

 

Adaptation: Kafka on the Shore

The Ninagawa Company recently came to Lincoln Center to perform their adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. As soon as I saw posters start to go up, I was intrigued and knew I had to see it. How could you possibly turn such a dense and surreal book into a three hour play? The answer is – interpret, edit, adapt.

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Kafka + Crow

Even the description of the play on the official website suggests it will have a much more straightforward plot than the book.

In a tale of two parallel journeys, 15-year-old Kafka and an imaginary friend run away from home in search of his estranged mother and sister and to escape an Oedipal curse. His journey runs side by side that of a fellow searcher—an old man with uncanny abilities seeking a magical stone he believes will offer divine guidance. As their odysseys entwine in modern-day Japan, reality, dream, and myth converge in an allegorical tale that resonates viscerally but resists logical explanation.

There may have been something lost in translation, however, because the play doesn’t even mention an Oedipal curse. Also, I would never have called Crow an “imaginary friend” – would you have? The play was entirely in Japanese, and we had to read subtitles off a banner on top of the stage. I’ve done this before for operas, but never for a play. After the first five minutes of adjusting, I hardly noticed and felt entirely absorbed in the play.

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Johnnie Walker in his basement

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A Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

Kafka

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

***

Anyone that has read a book or interview by Haruki Murakami knows how important music is to his voice and his writing. Kafka on the Shore is no different. Kafka on the Shore follows the lives of two people: Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. Kafka is running away from home to escape an Oedipal-esque prophecy that his father predicts of him. Mr. Nakata can talk to cats, so  he is hired to search for a missing cat named Goma and ends up on a crazy journey. Both characters embark on long journeys with little idea of where they are going; instead, a lot of things happen to both, as passive actors in their own lives.

At one of the most climactic scenes (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the book for you), Kafka Tamura is listening to the final movement of his favorite symphony, and Murakami makes sure to describe the music as well as the story. You can almost hear the frenzied rise of the instruments with Kafka! Music equally affects the other characters of the book – Kafka and his friend Oshima have long discussions about music and meaning, while Hoshino becomes transformed through music.

I think in order to fully appreciate the novel, you have to understand Murakami’s writing philosophy. In an interview with the Paris Review, he says:

“You’ve read Raymond Chandler, of course. His books don’t really offer conclusions. He might say, He is the killer, but it doesn’t matter to me who did it. There was a very interesting episode when Howard Hawks made a picture of The Big Sleep. Hawks couldn’t understand who killed the chauffeur, so he called Chandler and asked, and Chandler answered, I don’t care! Same for me. Conclusion means nothing at all.”

Like listening to music, reading Kafka on the Shore is about the journey; it is the only thing that matters, the destination is a necessary consequence of traveling. Once I was able to comprehend this, I was able to let go a little and fully inhabit the world that Murakami has created.

***

Music is so prevalent here and acts as a guidepost through the book, telling you how far you’ve journeyed, so I created a playlist to listen to while reading Kafka on the Shore. Half of these songs were actually mentioned in the book, while the rest just seemed to fit the tone of the book. Please see the tracklist and link to the playlist below:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Major, Schubert
  2. Crossroads, Cream
  3. Little Red Corvette, Prince
  4. In a Sentimental Mood, Duke Ellington
  5. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay, Otis Redding
  6. As Time Goes By, Eddie Haywood
  7. Visions of Johanna, Bob Dylan
  8. Dunes, Alabama Shakes
  9. Kid A, Radiohead
  10. The Bitter End, Placebo

Click here to launch Kafka on the Shore: A Playlist