Friday, 12 October 2012

Five Strange Tales from Tokyo

A post that I had on hold just in case, but after my dreadful oversight in thinking that Strange Tales of Tokyo/Tokyo Ki tansyu hadn't  appeared in English translation, I thought that I'd better acquaint myself with this collection, although my error has acted as a great prompt for me as Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman has inexcusably escaped my reading since I received it many years ago. Although in my slight defence the stories that feature in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are taken from  various sources and to add to this a couple of the translations that appear in it have also  appeared in stand alone volumes. Tony Takitani was published by Cloverfield Press back in 2006, and also the story Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry, was published by the Oundle Festival as Aero-plane, appearing in a very limited signed edition in conjunction with the event, copies of which now exchange for a small fortune, sadly I don't own a copy of either. Strange Tales of Tokyo/Tokyo Ki tansyu make up the last five stories at the end of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and are translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, as are all of the stories that make up the collection, I confined myself to reading these five stories, although after reading Murakami's intro-duction I read through The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes, it was hard not to, and Tony Takitani which I'm sure I've read before. For a number of reasons it would be great to see English translations appear as closely to the original Japanese ones as possible although I'm sure publishers aren't too keen on publishing slim volumes, but I really love the cover art of the original Tokyo Ki tansyu, which is from Enoki Toshiyuki, check out the rest of his Anima mundi series.

Tokyo Ki tansyu opens with Chance Traveler a story that is built up around coincidences, the opening narrator is Murakami himself recalling a Jazz concert that he attended where the performer launches into songs which he himself was contemplating hearing, the songs are ones that hypothetically he would be pressed into wanting to hear played. The narrative gets carried over in describing a friend, a man who tunes his piano, we are given a slight portrait of the man and learn that he is gay, he meets by chance a married  woman in a coffee shop, after they have become better acquainted he discovers that the woman has cancer and that she has a mole. The nuances to the characters are that the we get the impression that the woman is feeling suffocated within her marriage and hints that she would like to take their relationship further, but the piano tuner explains his orientation and apologetically declines, with him we learn of the problems he faces in being homosexual, the strangers form their relationship out of being able to confide in each other. Reading the motifs used in this story I was reminded of Mishima Yukio, although I wouldn't want to begin to compare Murakami Haruki with Mishima Yukio to  any great degree, the appearance of the mole in the story reminded me of the Sea of Fertility where the mole represented the proof of reincarnation, and in Chance Traveler it is used to link the mysterious woman with that of the the piano tuner's estranged sister who also has a mole on her ear and  unbeknownst to him has also suffered from cancer, the woman appears almost as a visitation which prompts the man into re-establishing his relationship with his sister and her homophobic husband. Many of Murakami's stories feature characters with dual existences, reading the story in this light reminded me again of a scene from one of Mishima's modern noh plays - The Damask Drum, the description of the lonely policeman who will only encounter another policeman walking the other way. Chance Traveler provokes us into thinking that no matter how hard things can be, something good or better may come about, for me the point where the story elevates is when the married woman confides to the piano tuner that she has cancer, something she has yet to tell her husband, the piano tuner tells her about his rule in life - "If you have to choose between something that has form and something that doesn't, go for the one without form. That's my rule. Whenever I run into a wall I follow that rule, and it always works out. Even if it's hard going at the time." In using the character of a piano tuner to straighten out discord Murakami displays a subtle touch to this story.

Hanalei Bay is probably the most resonant story in the collection, it follows Sachi, a woman whose son drowns after a shark attack in Hawaii, she travels there to confirm her son's identity, whilst there she meets two Japanese surfers who encounter a ghost on the beach whose description resembles that of her son. Exploring Sachi's past this story sees a musical involvement with her being a piano player, the story is balanced between loss and Sachi's understated fortitude. Where I'm Likely to Find It, sees Murakami again explore themes of duality and also conveys a sense of emptiness or the directionless of modern life. The narrative comes from a detective who enigmatically excepts no payment for his services as he takes on a case to track down a missing husband, a prevalent aspect to Murakami's writing is his subtle sense of balance within his stories and also that of the appearance of dualism, not only with his characters in his stories but also with the events that occur in them. In this story the detective centers his attention on the last known whereabouts of the husband, floors 24 - 26 of the building where he lives or lived, as he walks around the building, (posing as an insurance agent), he encounters a number of characters, an old man who appears almost like a sage and also a young girl who the detective subtly converses with. He conveys to her that he's looking for some-thing, which we think at first he is referring to the missing husband but it begins to take on a broader meaning, implying that he's looking for something to give meaning to his life, the dimensions and shape of this missing something remain unclear. A striking juxtaposition of events occur in this story, that of the detective coming out of himself in an attempt to find that missing something and also the husband who has been unwittingly lost, who mysteriously finds himself on a bench without any memory of where he has been or how he got there, Murakami seems to be pointing out that the power of consciousness or the attainment of a sense equilibrium is a malleable quality and is shared and connected between people existing somewhere out there, perhaps irrespective of their will, or that people are susceptible to it's force.

The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day, for me was one of the most satisfying to read out of the collection, the narrative  employs a story within a story mechanism but begins with Junpei being told by his father that he will meet only three women that, 'have real meaning for him', it's delivered almost like a maxim and Junpei is keen to break this hex. Junpei meets a woman whom he falls in love with, but it's unrequited, but he's sure that she is the first out of the three. As the narrative progresses we learn that Junpei is a writer who has been nominated for the Akutagawa but never won, this is revealed when he is talking to Kirie, a woman whom he meets whilst drinking, a relationship starts but details of the woman are slight, her occupation remains a mystery. The story within the story begins to materialize with Junpei writing a story about a doctor who one day finds a kidney shaped stone, before he finishes it Kirie vanishes from his life, even with the story published she doesn't make contact. Time passes and randomly in a taxi Junpei thinks he hears her being interviewed on the radio about her speaking about her experiences as a high wire walker. In Junpei's  story the stone begins to move of it's own accord, eventually the doctor finds the kidney shape in her lover's body, (a married surgeon whom she's having an affair),  She knows that her kidney shaped stone is lurking in there. The kidney is a secret informer that she herself has buried in her lover's body. Beneath her fingers, it squirms like an insect, sending her kidney-type messages. She converses with the kidney, exchanging intelligence. The stone infringes on the doctor's life until she can think of nothing else, despite hurtling it into the sea the stone reappears on her desk. The way Murakami merges the story Junpei is writing with his thoughts about Kirie is fascinating to read and will probably offer fresh perspectives and nuances over repeated readings.

The last story is A Shinagawa Monkey whose central character is Mizuki Ando, a married woman who has a problem in remembering her name, she visits a counselor for help and the narrative returns to her being at school, she tells her counsellor of Yuko Matsunaka, a  beautiful and popular student who visited her before committing suicide, she had given Mizuki her school name tag to look after, a monkey could come and pinch it she warns Mizuki. Many times it's pointed out that Mizuki was a young woman who never succumbed to jealousy, her purity of spirit is something which seems to be the aspect of her character that it could be said is rewarded at the story's close, or at least makes a path towards this outcome. A Shinagawa Monkey reads very much like a modern fable as indeed as a number of these stories do. Tokyo Ki tansyu is a deeply interesting collection to read, more impressive contemplating that Murakami finished them in a month, whilst reading them you become aware again of  his distinctive spatial quality, although despite sometimes the individual flavouring given to his characters I sometimes feel a slight claustrophobia in reading them, in their differences they begin to form a uniformity, but this it could be said reflects the human, in as much as we are all different we essentially remain the same.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman at Vintage U.K

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman at Vintage International 


Unknown said...

I enjoyed these stories a lot. In a way, it's a shame they were buried in 'Blind Willow...' (In fact, I'm not a huge fan of that collection as it seems very artificial and uncohesive). By the way, isn't the original title 'Tokyo Kitan-Shu'? That's what I'd heard anyway...

me. said...

I think you heard right, and I'm wrong again,(!) will make corrections. As you can tell I've not really submerged myself into Murakami since 1Q84, and before that arrived it had been quite a long time since I have read him.

Also I think that if I had attempted to read Blind Willow... from cover to cover I think I would have also struggled with it, but I enjoyed reading and thinking about these stories on their own. It's interesting to contemplate that a collection doesn't have to be long in order to leave an impact, in comparison I'm thinking, let's say, Ogawa Yoko's The Diving Pool.

Thanks for commenting.