I happened to catch Haruki Murakami accepting his award on the news the other night (it must count as one of his only ever appearances on TV, come to think of it) and was just thinking "Kafka on the Shore...Kafka award...hmmm..."; it seems greater minds than mine make the same associations. Sour grapes aside, Kafka is one of Murakami's best books; he does revisit a certain amount of old ground, but he's learning how to give the scarier elements of his writing real teeth as he gets older.
My favourite Murakami is still Hard-Boiled Wonderland, but if you have a chunk of time to spare and are in the mood to have your head turned inside out then The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is worth a try.
This seems about time for the obligatory plug of my (now ageing) thesis on Murakami, which I just glanced through for the first time in a few years. It's slightly wordy and overwritten (the writer's desperation to prove he knows what he's talking about comes through loud and clear), but not a bad read if I do say so myself.
The only Murakami Haruki work to make it to the screen thus far has been his debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no Uta wo Kike). It's easy to see why; in most of his novels the majority of the words on the page are first-person narration and, unless you go in for voiceovers or tedious devices like looking over the narrator's shoulder as he writes his journal, you're not left with much to work with. The SFX budget required to film something like Hard-Boiled Wonderland probably gives many more pause for thought, though with Kiriya Kazuaki allegedly having made Casshern on a bunch of G5 Macs purchased from Akihabara when the production budget came in, the word should be out that the bar for creating CG-driven epics is coming way down. Murakami's science fiction does have a certain 80s tilt to it, though, so it'd take a skilled hand to brush it up for the 00's.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying I'm not all that surprised that the next Murakami work to grace the screen will be an untypical piece. Tony Takitani is a longish short story from his collection Lexington no Yuurei (The Ghost of Lexington) that depicts the life of a Japanese jazz musician turned illustrator, beginning in Shanghai around the time of WW2. It does have the usual Murakami quirks, but it's odd to see him do a period piece except in the war flashbacks found in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Whereas Hear the Wind Sing was by all accounts a fairly uninspired piece of disaffected-youth drama, Tony Takitani looks on paper to promise more. Ogata Issei and Miyazawa Rie star, Sakamoto Ryuichi provides the music, and the director is Ichikawa Jun. There's now a bilingual site up for the movie, from which I learn that it's already had a couple of film festival screenings and is lined up to show at Sundance in 2005. From the shots and commentary up at the site, I'm hooked enough to put this one down as a must-see for next year. Opens in spring in Japan.
My undergraduate dissertation, The Use of Certain Fantastic Concepts in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki, has been missing from the web for a while. It is now back up, and downloadable here in PDF format.
The essay covers all of Murakami's novels up to and including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; I finished reading his latest, Kafka on the Shore, a while back in Japanese and will hopefully find time for something on that soon.