Haruki Murakami is undoubtedly fused in contemporary literature’s DNA. While he brought Japanese works into a scene that Westerners have dominated for so long, Murakami is highly influenced by Kafkaesque prose, with stories tinged with Raymond Carver’s clout.
And just as any work (especially those written by men), proper female representation is a hit or miss in these pages. For author and self-professed Murakami fan Mieko Kawakami, this is one she’s often questioned. In a recent interview, the author directed these inquiries right to Murakami himself.
In an article for LitHub, Kawakami listed all the different reactions that readers have with regard to Murakami’s female characters. Reactions varied with some wishing that he wrote women with the same creativity he does of men, while others said that these “women make themselves unreasonably unavailable.” And for some, nothing’s wrong with his portrayals at all, thinking that they were realistic.
In her interview with Murakami, Kawakami starts by talking to the author about the balance between sexualization and philosophical undertones. For certain readers, his portrayal of female characters wasn’t something to rave about—so much so that some have questioned Kawakami’s own interest in these books.
“We can talk about the women in my novels as a group, but to me, they’re unique individuals, and on a fundamental level, before I see them as a man or woman, I see them as a human being.”
“It goes beyond whether they’re realistic, or come across as ‘real-life women.’ It has more to do with the roles they play,” Kawakami says to Murakami. In response, Murakami explains that his characters—whether men or women—aren’t individualistic characters, but something more reactionary to the society they’re living in.
Still, despite some so-called problematic portrayals, Kawakami cites the short story “Sleep” as a feat for female characters. Narrated from a woman’s perspective, Kawakami dubs the story as “the perfect metaphor for women’s existence.” “When I was writing ‘Sleep,’ I just wrote down whatever I was thinking, figuring this was what a woman would be like under the circumstances,” Murakami says. “The narrator just happened to be a woman that time around. I wasn’t making any conscious effort to explore the female mind.”
Right as they wrapped up their conversation, Murakami leaves with an important anecdote. “We can talk about the women in my novels as a group, but to me, they’re unique individuals, and on a fundamental level, before I see them as a man or woman, I see them as a human being.”
Read the full interview here.
Photo from “Dance, Dance, Dance” by Haruki Murakami