Break on through
The elusive Murakami

Up from the Underground
The healer
The Outsider
The human cost

Roll over Basho
Murakami is seeking new style
Mizumaru Ansei

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Up from the Underground
  Metropolis Magazine

Japan's literary superstar Haruki Murakami is home for the duration and relishing the New Japan. The novelist tells Roland Kelts his story.

When I meet Haruki Murakami for the first time, he pops up at the top of a staircase in his Aoyama studio with neither warning nor explanation, like an apparition in one of his books. I have just struggled through a mass of dense summer heat, trudging in my suit-and-tie past the boutiques and cafes, longing for a reprieve. Murakami is wearing a pair of canvas shorts and an open-necked polo shirt. Soft breezes and a wall of jazz LPs surround him, and he eyes me with calm precision, sizing me up before either of us speaks. "Come in," he finally says. "I've been swimming."
In person and in print, Murakami has become famous for this kind of unflappable cool, for a fashionable life of travel and designer-label tastes-in jazz, cars and clothes-and for novels and stories that feature a hip awareness of Western cultural icons and contemporary lingo, conveyed in a voice that feels laid-back and effortless. When his novels first appeared in English, Murakami's incorporation of a Western style into slickly modern Japanese settings was mostly deemed weird, especially to those accustomed to more solemn traditional Japanese literature. Novels like "A Wild Sheep Chase" and "Dance, Dance, Dance" run the voice of Raymond Chandler through an electrified (and electrifying) aesthetic blender, mixing hard-boiled mystery with postmodern menace, and combining absurdism with intimacy. In 1992, once-au courant American novelist Jay MacInerney, to whom Murakami was then being compared, conducted an interview with him. "His motto might be 'No big deal,'" MacInerney wrote of Murakami's everyman narrators, comparing the "jaded equanimity" of the author's tone to that of another American writer Murakami has translated: Raymond Carver

"I made up my mind then that I wouldn't follow any movement, any ideology, any ism. They all disappointed me. I felt betrayed."
But the man I met and have come to know in subsequent meetings in Tokyo and New York is warm, candid and intense-and full of contradictions. Japan's most widely read and highly regarded international author looks a good 15 years younger than a man in his early 50's should, even among generally long-living, well-preserved Japanese. His face is broad, smooth and, at first, unnervingly impassive. His eyes are darkly still, owlish beneath thick brows. He speaks with a deep baritone, resonant with care and thoughtfulness, and he massages his voice with frequent mugs of tea. In that seductive, even comforting voice, he claims that he's "not a very good talker in any language," though his English is mellifluous and exacting. He is a major novelist who is also a serious runner, having completed marathons in New York, Boston and Sapporo. And while the author of nine novels, 30 books of stories, essays and translations became famous for being cool, he uses hot, passionate language to declare that he's no longer interested in all that. He'd rather write a great novel.

Haruki Murakami is the most famous Japanese writer of his generation, and he is probably the most important writer in Japan today. In his native land he has sold millions of books, eight of which have appeared in English, most recently "Underground," a series of interviews and musings about the Aum Shinrikyo poisonings of 1995, and "Sputnik Sweetheart," a novel of misunderstood love. His writing is translated into 16 languages; South Koreans recently incorporated the term "Murakamiesque" into their lexicon. He is an international man of letters, and he is also a celebrity, albeit a very private one, in a country where most successful authors appear on television chat shows and in magazine gossip columns. Numerous Japanese friends had told me, with a certain hush of awe, that he was impossible to interview. "He's like a recluse," one of them said. "I don't even know if he's living in Japan."
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