Interview with Haruki Murakami Pt. 2: Let the Music Speak in Wartime

Haruki Murakami is seen at the Waseda International House of Literature (The Haruki Murakami Library) in Tokyo on April 20, 2022. (Photo 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 a variety of topics, from his admiration for American literary giant F. Scott Fitzgerald whose work Murakami has long appreciated and translated into Japanese, to the war in Ukraine, his own story “Drive My Car” which has been adapted into an award-winning film and the meaning of writing a novel. Here are excerpts from the exclusive interview:

The Mainichi Shimbun: A war broke out after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. You aired a special titled “Music to End War” on your radio program “Murakami Radio” in March. What was the motivation behind the special program?

Haruki Murakami: A lot of the songs I played on that show were anti-war music to protest the Vietnam War that was going on when I was young. It feels like this kind of music has come full circle and come back.

What I thought was this: you know how everyone, including television commentators, expresses their opinion — right, wrong, right or wrong. I didn’t want to be like that. So I let the music do the talking. I introduced some information about the songs and played them, without giving my opinion, but I think that in the end, it went well. I’m not a commentator or a critic, so I want to avoid saying direct things as much as possible. I believe it is important that I rely on something (to speak for myself).

MS: We are worried about a possible third world war.

HM: Looking at the coronavirus (pandemic) and Ukraine, I feel like the world is going through drastic changes over time. But I’m not one to write novels based on real-life events, but more one to write about mood swings following those events, so it’ll probably take a while (until current events are reflected in my work).

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

HM: There are six titles that have been published in Ukrainian. The seventh is “Killing Commendatore” and we signed a contract, but right now they have bigger concerns than publishing a book. I have readers in Ukraine and readers in Russia, so considering that aspect, what is 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 Oscar for Best International Feature Film.

HM: They did a meaningful remake very well, and it doesn’t really strike me when I’m told I’m the original screenwriter. I only lent a frame, and apart from that, the director (Ryusuke) Hamaguchi created the film freely. I liked it because it’s so different from the novel.

MS: Six months have passed since the opening of the Waseda International House of Literature (Haruki Murakami Library) (at Waseda University in Tokyo). You must organize a public recording of your radio show to present the vinyl record collection of illustrator Makoto Wada (1936-2019). (The show aired on April 24 on Murakami Radio).

HM: I received Mr. Wada’s huge vinyl collection, and I will play 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 collecting 365 titles myself, and they were donated to Waseda University as the “Makoto Wada Collection”.

MS: It seems that today it’s getting harder and harder for people to find answers about how humans or societies should be, or where they should look for their ideals. Could you tell us what, in your opinion, are the roles of literature or the roles of novels at such a time?

HM: However the world is changing, the meaning of writing a novel is to retrace a story, and that hasn’t changed for a long time. Depending on the mood of the moment, the nature of the story changes little by little, as well as its course, but basically what I do has not changed. I’m just a story, and I write it down. Personally, I don’t know what the story means, or what it represents or what it implies. But I know it means something and it implies something. What’s important is how the readers feel about it (from the story).

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