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Haruki Murakami interview Pt. 2: Letting music speak in times of war

Haruki Murakami is seen at the Waseda International House of Literature (the Haruki Murakami Library) in Tokyo on April 20, 2022. (Photo taken by Azusa Takada)

TOKYO -- Prominent Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, 73, recently sat with the Mainichi Shimbun in Tokyo for the first time in two years. He spoke on various 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: A war broke out after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. You aired a special broadcast titled "Music to Put an End to War" on your radio program "Murakami Radio" in March. What was the motivation behind the special program?

    Haruki Murakami: Many of the songs I played during that broadcast were anti-war music to protest the Vietnam War that was going on when I was young. It does feel like that kind of music has made a full circle and come back.

    What I thought was this: You know how everyone including commentators on TV expresses their opinion -- this is good, that is bad, this is correct or that is incorrect. I didn't want to be like that. So I let music speak. I introduced some information on the songs and played them, while not speaking out my opinion, but I think in the end it turned out well. I'm not a commentator nor a critic, so I want to avoid saying things that are direct as much as possible. I believe it's important that I leave it to something (to speak on my behalf).

    MS: There are concerns about a possible World War III.

    HM: Looking at the coronavirus (pandemic) and Ukraine, I do feel that the world is going through drastic changes with the times. But I'm not the type who writes novels based on real-life events, but rather the type who writes about the changes in the mood as a result of those events, so it'll probably be a while (until the current events are reflected in my work).

    MS: You have a large fan base in Russia, and your books have been translated into Ukrainian as well.

    HM: There are six titles that have been published in Ukrainian. The seventh is "Killing Commendatore" and we've signed a contract, but right now they've got bigger things to worry about than publishing a book. I have readers in Ukraine and readers in Russia, so considering that aspect, what's happening is sad.

    MS: Let's talk about the movie "Drive My Car" which was based on your book. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

    HM: They did a significant remake very well, and it doesn't really hit me when I'm told that I'm the original writer. I only lent a framework, and other than that director (Ryusuke) Hamaguchi created the movie freely. I enjoyed it because it's so different from the novel.

    MS: Six months have passed since the Waseda International House of Literature (The Haruki Murakami Library) opened (in Tokyo's Waseda University). You're scheduled to hold a public recording of your radio show to introduce illustrator Makoto Wada's (1936-2019) vinyl record collection. (The show was aired on April 24 on Murakami Radio).

    HM: I've received Mr. Wada's massive vinyl collection, and I'll be playing the music I like. There are many rare titles, and because Mr. Wada was a neat person, his records are in meticulous condition, not a single scratch. I spent two days to pick up 365 titles myself, and they were donated to Waseda University as the "Makoto Wada collection."

    MS: It seems that today it's becoming harder for people to find the answers as to how humans or societies should be, or where they should seek their ideals. Could you tell us what you think are the roles of literature or roles of novels in such a day and age?

    HM: However the world changes, the meaning of writing a novel comes down to tracing a story, and that has not changed from long ago. Depending on the mood of the times, the nature of the story changes little by little, as well as its course, but in essence what I do hasn't changed. I simply follow a story, and I put it in writing. I personally don't know what the story means, or what it represents or what it implies. But I do know that it represents something and it implies something. What's important is how readers sense that (from the story).

    (Japanese original interview constructed by Koichi Oi and Yusuke Seki, Cultural News Department)

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