Acclaimed author Haruki Murakami took time out from writing his first full-length novel since 2002’s “Kafka On The Shore” to talk exclusively to the Mainichi. Murakami spoke on a broad spectrum of topics ranging from recent Japanese translation trends — including his own work on contemporary classics — to awareness in the post-Sept. 11 world.
Murakami has accompanied his own writing with translations of American literature.
Over the past few years, Murakami has rendered into Japanese four full-length novels — J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye” and Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — as they are important novels “I really wanted to translate,” he says.
Murakami worked on these now-published translations from 2003. The novels are not just representative works of their famous authors, but also stories Murakami has read repeatedly since his high school days and, he says, “I personally like them.”
“I’ve always translated Fitzgerald, but otherwise concentrated on contemporary works,” Murakami says, adding there were three reasons why he decided to take on the “classics.”
“I’ve gradually worked out my translation style and thought it was about time I gave them a try myself,” he says, outlining the first of his motives. “And, there’s a use-by date for translations and the old translations have reached that time.”
His final ground for updated translations was that “young people should translate new works by contemporary writers.”
Murakami’s Japanese translation of “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Murakami says the “use-by” date on translations means they have a “50-year limit” of effectiveness because of changing writing styles in Japanese. Murakami says that the flood of works translated into Japanese during a literature boom here in the 1960s are now reaching their “use-by” dates.
Murakami says the four works he translated share a common trait of having “urban settings.” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are all set in New York, while “The Long Goodbye” is based in Los Angeles.
“It’s turned out that my translations have mostly focused on works in a style like urban novels,” Murakami says.
Murakami says he was impressed by the writing styles of all four novels and needed to explore their methods.
“Chandler’s writing style really grabbed me,” he says. “There’s something special about his writing. For years, I’ve always wondered what it was. Even after I’d translated him, though, I’m still wondering what it is that makes him special.”
Murakami’s strong interest in the secret behind that writing style was also evident in the long postscript he wrote for his translation of “The Long Goodbye.” In the afterword, Murakami writes: “Chandler’s creativity lies in the ‘ego set like a black box.'”
Murakami also lauds the writing styles of Fitzgerald and Capote.
“They’re skillful, beautiful, rhythmical, flowing. That’s what it all comes down to,” he says.
Murakami says that above all Fitzgerald’s writing taught him “about the importance of aiming high in writing.”
“That’s why I still think I can improve on my own novels. It’s because I use Fitzgerald as the standard I’d like to be at myself,” he says.
Murakami says Fitzgerald and Capote “write a different type of style to what I do.”
“I can’t write as beautifully as that. But I’d like to be able to take the glamour, the rhythm and flow from their writing and put it into simpler words,” he says. (This is the first of a series of interviews with Murakami that will run daily this week.)