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Friday, June 29, 2012

1Q84: A Theory

So you may remember a few posts back I mentioned I was setting my teeth into Haruki Murukami's latest work, 1Q84. About two weeks after starting, I've at last conquered the 900-page beast and I really, really enjoyed it. I've already got two more Murukami books waiting on my shelf to be devoured (Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), but before getting started on those, I want to get some closure on this one first. So, after mulling it over for a bit, here it is: my attempt to explain what that was all about. Be warned, the following contains HEAVY SPOILERS for 1Q84 (and, strangely enough, ABC's LOST). 
If you've read the book, have a gander below and see what you make of it. If you haven't, this is going to make approximately (by which I mean, exactly) zero sense. 
1Q84 is divided into three books. The first two books alternate between the perspectives of two protagonists thrown into the dystopian world of 1Q84. (The third book adds an aditional narrator, Ushikawa). The first protagonist is Aomame, a young woman who works as a kind of hit-man, employed to assassinate perpetrators of domestic violence. The second is Tengo, an aspiring author who finds himself embroiled in a fraudulent scheme to re-write a young dyslexic girl’s fantasy novel and publish it as his own. As the story progresses, the two halves slowly begin to segue into one another: Aomame’s latest assignment sees her tasked with assassinating the Leader of Sakigake, a mysterious religious cult; simultaneously it becomes apparent that the “fantasy” novel which has since been published under Tengo’s name is not, in fact, fantasy at all, but rather a dangerously true exposition of Sakigake.  Both protagonists thus begin to attract the unwelcome attention of the cult, whose secret philosophies are slowly uncovered as the story progresses. With allies disappearing at an alarming rate, it also emerges that Aomame and Tengo are themselves former classmates who fell in love as children, and continue to long for one another, despite having not having been in contact for twenty years. Driven on by the strange circumstances they’ve found themselves in within 1Q84, the two realise they need to find each other, a desire which becomes the driving force of the story by its concluding chapters.
On the surface, at least, that’s how it goes. Plunge a little deeper, and, in typical Murakami fashion, those waters get murky. Perhaps the most intriguing mystery of all is trying to work out the boundary between reality and imagination:
"But this is not a story. We're talking about the real world", Aomame said.
Tamaru narrowed his eyes and looked hard at Aomame. Then, slowly opening his mouth, he said, "Who knows?"
Perhaps the whole story itself is simply Tengo’s creation. An idea that’s constantly stressed throughout the book is people’s capacity to change, erase and re-write their history (hey, Orwell). From the beginning of the story, Tengo is haunted by a literally debilitating childhood memory of his mother’s infidelity. Yet Tengo himself questions whether this memory was a fake. Having been brought up loathing the man he knew as a father, Tengo wonders whether he subconsciously planted the memory, in order to give himself hope that perhaps his real father was still out there somewhere. "By adjusting time this way to suit their own purposes, people probably adjusted the meaning of their existences". Similarly, when Tengo reflects on his failure to seize the opportunity to declare his feelings to Aomame as a child, it’s stated that: "So rather than make the effort to forge a real relationship with the flesh-and-blood Aomame, Tengo chose to relate to her through the silent realm of imagination and memory." Is the whole story, then, just one big product of Tengo’s subconscious, intended to cover over the cracks of a reality that the real Tengo was dissatisfied with?
But where does that leave Aomame?
Near the end of the book, when Tengo’s father (a former NHK fee collector) is in a coma, two of the other main characters in the book – Aomame and Ushikawa – find themselves haunted by an unseen NHK fee collector. It’s not long before Tengo comes to the realisation that the rogue fee collector is actually his father:
Tengo: “I have the feeling your consciousness isn’t lost at all. You have put your body in a coma, but your consciousness is off somewhere else, alive. You were disappointed and discouraged, and lost interest in everything. So you abandoned your physical body. You went to a world apart and you’re living a different kind of life there. In a world that’s inside you. I have this strange sense you are actually doing that. Like you have gone to my apartment in Koenji and are knocking on the door.”
Perhaps, then, 1Q84 is just Tengo and Aomame’s “world apart”: unable to unite their physical bodies in the real world, they abandoned them and, like the quote says, went to a world that’s inside themselves; a world in which theirs consciousnesses could be united. Unlike Tengo's father, who went alone, Aomame and Tengo entered the new world together: they were both drawn into 1Q84 because they were "so powerfully drawn to each other". Despite this, it seems that 1Q84 wasn't only their world. It was also inhabited by many others more dangerous than either of them foresaw. Moreover, being a subconscious world, it was a place where the normally rigid rules governing the universe could be bent; a place where two moons hung in the sky, where immaculate conceptions were possible, and where Tengo's mother could be reborn as Nurse Adachi. Perhaps Ushikawa, too, consciously travelled to this subsconscious world. It's never explained just how or why his wife and children came to disappear from his life: could it be that he left them behind in the world of reality?
Thinking all of this over, I was reminded of the ending of LOST

Jack: Where are we?
Christian: This is a place that you all made together... so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people on that island. That's why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
Jack: For what?
Christian: To remember. And... to let go.
Jack: Kate... she said we were leaving.
Christian: Not leaving. No. Moving on.
In my mind, something similar has happened in 1Q84. When Tengo and Aomame escape at the end of the book, it's apparent that the new world they've stepped into isn't the same as the one they originally left behind. They journeyed to 1Q84 to find each other. Once they had, they "moved on". Not back to reality, but to a new place. A place they could only go to together.
As frustrating as it may be that my own "answers" are actually questions, I kind of like it that way. Murikami doesn't feed you a neat little conclusion, he leaves you to make your own. The book becomes a kind of treasure map full of vague clues from which you have to direct yourself. And this is the destination those clues lead me to. Doubtless other people have ended up somewhere else, miles away entirely. 

But, again, that's the beauty of Murikami's approach.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Well, at least it's not spaghetti Bolognese...

If there's one thing I'm going to miss when I leave Japan, it's the food. Okay, if I had to draw up a list, it might not be the #1 thing I'll miss, but it's up there. School lunch is delicious and nutritionally balanced (one of my friends is the dietitian who works for the local council to plan menus) AND I LOVE IT. I just know when I go home it's going to be near-on impossible to maintain such a healthy diet so effortlessly. It's no surprise the Japanese life expectancy is so high and you rarely see any fatties: the kids eat school lunch every day and play sports after school for a minimum of two hours (including weekends). I really think I've gotten a lot more healthy since coming here, too - I mean, my liver probably still resembles a barren wasteland, but you've got to be grateful for small favours, right?

While we're on the topic of food, I thought I'd share with you some pictures from tonight's dinner. After work, I went for a swim with Megu at the local pool and on the bike ride home stopped by the local grocery store to grab some grub. Usually, I'd make a beeline for the pasta aisle, fill my basket to breaking point and cycle home satisfied. Today, though I decided to mix things up a little. Now, before we get started, let's be real: the only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess. And several little fires. (Carrie, Sex and the City). Nobody needs a walk-through guide explaining how to chuck a few things in a pan and make a stir-fry. I get it. But in lieu of me actually acquiring any cooking ability, this is what you're stuck with.

So, first of all... grab your ingredients!

Today's menu consists of some beef, a pack of soba noodles, tofu, diced spring onions and kimchi! Appetite whetted? Grab your oil and get that mother burning!

Whilst shit starts getting real over on the hob, chop up your meat into some cute little cubes!

Do the same with your tofu! This stuff literally is literally like edible goo.

Now, pause and grab a tipple. It's Friday night, it'd be criminal not to. (AS IF I FOUND MALIBU).

Chuck your chopped-up meat and tofu into the pan. Whap out the soba noodles and throw them in along with the kimchi, too. Sprinkle the sauce in that comes with the soba noodles and GET TO WORK.

While that's sizzling away, raid your probably-out-of-date and frankly-quite-dangerous spice collection... 90% of which was left behind by your predecessor! Kid yourself you can read the labels, feel reality kick in and just start chucking random shit in like you've got a clue. Feels good, doesn't it?

Spices 'n' shit in, keep on frying until it's ready. When that is, I honestly couldn't tell you, but when you're at least kind of sure it looks edible, shove it all in a bowl, sprinkle your spring opinions on top and CHOW DOWN.

I'm not quite sure where the tofu got to. But whatever. Anyone know how to make it, like, not disappear?


That's Japanese for: single eligible bachelor with the ability to make a killer stir fry in the house! (Well, at least it's not spaghetti Bolognese...)

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