TOKYO -- Renowned Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, 73, recently sat with the Mainichi Shimbun in Tokyo for the first time in two years. He spoke on an expansive range of topics, from his admiration for American literary giant F. Scott Fitzgerald whose work Murakami has long enjoyed and translated into Japanese, to the war in Ukraine, his own story "Drive My Car" that was adapted into an award-winning film, and the meaning of writing a novel. The following are excerpts from the exclusive interview:
The Mainichi Shimbun: You've translated Fitzgerald's novel "The Last Tycoon" into Japanese, and it was just released in April. You seem to have been eager to translate his work including his classic "The Great Gatsby" since you did his essay collection "My Lost City," published in 1981, right after your debut novel.
Haruki Murakami: Yes, I've translated a significant number (of Fitzgerald's works) and published them.
MS: Had you been planning to translate "The Last Tycoon" for some time?
HM: Not really. For titles like "The Great Gatsby," I thought I should be the one to translate them, but I was debating about "The Last Tycoon." I wasn't sure about translating an unfinished novel, but then as I reread it, I realized it was still very well-written, even though it's unfinished, and started translating it.
MS: A newly interpretation of the Cambridge edition of "The Love of the Last Tycoon" was released in 2020, but you wanted to translate Wilson's, correct?
HM: Yes, Edmund Wilson's edition. I wanted to use that for my translation. Besides, the first version I read was the Wilson edition. I can't say which is good or bad, but personally I like the Wilson version a lot better.
MS: Do you mean that even though Wilson may have retouched parts of the book, it's still an accomplished work as a novel?
HM: Yes. If I were to die in the middle of writing a novel, I would probably think I'd want someone talented to retouch my work. I imagine I would appreciate my work going through repairs before it was published, rather than the incomplete (draft) I'd left behind being released as-is.
MS: You were writing "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" when you turned 44, the age Fitzgerald died, and wrote that you thought it would be a huge disappointment if you had died without completing that novel.
HM: I always think it'd be such a pity if I died in the middle of writing a long piece. I'm the type of a writer who rewrites and rewrites, so it would be extremely hard if I wasn't given chances to rewrite my work. So, I always think I'd like to stay alive until it's entirely completed and I've handed it (the final draft) to my editor.
If you read "The Last Tycoon," you can tell that Fitzgerald was writing while going back and fixing parts. Since the work he left behind is of excellent quality, I assume that he would write a little bit and then go back to fix it before proceeding to the next part, then write again and fix it again before continuing, and so on. I'm not like that. I keep on writing until the end and then go back to the beginning to rewrite it.
MS: You think if "The Last Tycoon" was finished it would have been a masterpiece, right?
HM: I believe it would have been one of the greatest novels in the history of American literature.
MS: Monroe Stahr, the protagonist in "The Last Tycoon," was inspired by legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg.
HM: In Fitzgerald's works, there are usually narrators, and they tell the stories of outstanding characters. Unless it's told by a third person, it's hard to grasp who Monroe Stahr is. His story cannot be told as a first-person narrative. It's kind of a tale of an American hero, like a romance.
MS: What do you think is special about Fitzgerald to you?
HM: I like that there's a strong sense of romance in Fitzgerald's stories. It means writing about a heart that strongly desires something; it could be wealth or a woman. And in many of his stories, the protagonists pursue their desire and sometimes they win it. But by the time they've gained whatever they were pursuing, its sparkle is gone, or the protagonists drive themselves to self-destruction by obsessing over these pursuits. Either way, the ending feels melancholy. But even if they're melancholy, these stories clearly impart the energy that was poured into chasing something, or something like the force of life. I rarely come across modern literature that depicts such romance quite like Fitzgerald did.
(Japanese original interview constructed by Koichi Oi and Yusuke Seki, Cultural News Department)
The Last Tycoon
A novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), an American literary giant from the Jazz Age in the 1920s. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack before finishing "The Last Tycoon," and his friend and literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) edited and completed Fitzgerald's draft. It was published in 1941. The story revolves around protagonist Monroe Stahr, who becomes a successful Hollywood film producer despite his upbringing in a poor Jewish family. The novel poetically traces the story of Stahr's life, his rise and fall in Hollywood, while illustrating his love affair with one woman.