Haruki Murakami’s novelistic fantasies offer a tonic — not only to a culture overly enmeshed in the realities of the day to day but to each of us individually. One aspect of this tonic is his view of the role women play in relationships with men.
When asked by an interviewer why women in his novels seem to embody and represent the fears and fantasies of his narrators, Murakami answered, “In my books and stories, women are mediums, in a sense; the function of the medium is to make something happen through herself. It’s a kind of system to be experienced. The protagonist is always led somewhere by the medium and the visions that he sees are shown to him by her.”
This remarkable view of the woman’s role closely echoes psychologist C. G. Jung’s theory of the anima. Anima means soul or life (especially inner life). Through such an image a man may seek for aspects of his life that are unconscious, undiscovered by him. The image of the woman may be seen in a vision, a dream, or even be a woman whom he meets.
A man knows that he is encountering an anima figure by the great stirring of energy within him. Unknown parts of him seek to become visible, to become part of what the man believes himself to be. To meet this woman who represents what is unknown arouses feelings of rapture and terror. At once the man feels immense possibilities open before him while the solid structure of the world he has known is shaken as if by an earthquake.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of many books in Murakami’s oeuvre to portray women as mediums or healers. The narrator and main character, Teru Okada, is adrift in his life. He is unemployed, having quit his job at a law firm where he considered himself a “gofer”. His cat, which he and his wife found the week after they married and called by the name of his brother-in-law (whom Okada dislikes and sees as his opposite), has vanished. His wife, Kumiko, soon leaves him and also vanishes. When she finally sends him a letter, she explains that three years earlier after she had an abortion during the marriage, she had failed to tell Okada that he had never given her “true sexual pleasure”. Later in the marriage she had an amazing sexual fling (sex “close to madness”) that ended when her lover proposed that she leave her husband and she refused. Much later, she admits that she had not one lover but many. She also says that the reason she searched so hard for the cat was that the cat “was always a symbol for something good that grew up between us.”
Just before she leaves, Kumiko has a woman named Malta Kano call and then meet her husband. Malta Kano is a psychic who adopted her name because of her special relationship to water and the fact that the island of Malta has “special—even mystical—water” called “spirit water” that “has a wonderful influence on the body’s elements”. She has asked to see him “purely about the cat” and tells him that “Cats are very sensitive creatures.” She also says she wants Okada to meet her sister, Creta Kano, who was violently raped five years earlier by Noboru Wataya. Noboru Wataya is the name of Okada’s brother-in-law and, therefore, also the name used for the missing cat.
Though the plotline may sound complex in summary, it is a pleasure to read. Murakami has a marvelous skill at what might be called accessible complexity. Creta Kano’s name was given to her by her sister who has also taught her to be a medium. Creta Kano asks to sample water from a well, but since the nearest well is dry she takes her sample from Okada’s faucet. She then tells Okada that the story will be “longer than it seemed at first” and “about more than the disappearance of a cat.”
Creta Kano then tells Okada about herself, and speaks of her unsuccessful suicide attempt at the age of twenty after years of experiencing life as “unremitting pain”. Suddenly free of pain after this attempt, she becomes a prostitute in the same month that Okada marries Kumiko. Her last client is Kumiko’s brother, Noboru Wataya. In the middle of this story, she vanishes from Okada’s apartment.
Immediately after this Okada sees Creta Kano in a dream in which they are in a strange hotel room and she takes his erect penis in her mouth. He wakes to find he has had an orgasm. Later he dreams of her again in the same hotel room. She wears a blue dress of Kumiko’s and after oral sex they have intercourse during which Creta morphs into another woman.
When Okada next meets Creta she tells him that she too participated in the dreams and “had relations” but that “it was something done in the correct way, with a correct purpose.” She tells Okada that he ejaculated into his “own consciousness.” When he asks what purpose that could serve, she answers, “To know more—and more deeply.”
Okada spends a great deal of time thinking at the bottom of a dry well in a neighboring house. At one point, when someone has removed the rope ladder, Creta comes and throws it back down to him. Later Okada finds Creta at the bottom of the well “thinking” as he likes to do. He can’t persuade her to come up and, when he goes back, she is gone. Soon thereafter he finds Creta sleeping next to him, nude, in Kumiko’s spot in the bed. Creta dresses in Kumiko’s clothes and continues the story of her psychic rape by Noboru Wataya. This “rape” split her physical self into two halves from which crawled “a thing that I had never seen or touched before. How large it was I could not tell, but it was as wet and slippery as a newborn baby.” She loses her power to control herself and also loses consciousness. “When I regained consciousness,” she says, “I was a different person.”
Creta next asks Okada to go to Crete with her (Creta being an ancient name for Crete). He is unsure. She then asks that he pay her to have sex so that he and not Noboru Wataya will be her last client as a prostitute. Okada feels paying money would be wrong but agrees to pay with his wife’s clothing and has sex “like an extension of my dream” in which he sometimes imagines he is with Kumiko. As times passes, Okada remembers his dream sex with Creta vividly but as for the night of actual sex, “the feeling of certainty began to disappear.”
The missing cat returns at last and Okada gives it a new name — Mackeral. Then he dreams that Malta Kano visits him. When he tells her that the cat has returned, she asked if the cat’s appearance has changed. Then she says, “Creta Kano’s baby’s name is Corsica, Mr. Okada.” In the dream there is also a dog with the face of a man who has been a messenger between Okada and Noboru Wataya. The dog adds, “‘No man is an island.’ That Corsica.” Soon after Okada dreams of Creta who is holding her baby named Corsica and tells him she had stayed in Japan to raise her child.
As the novel nears its conclusion, Okada has reason to hope that he will be reunited with Kumiko. He tells a friend, “If Kumiko and I have a child, I’m thinking of naming it Corsica.”
Malta and Creta Kano are both mediums, and are both eccentric. Of course, an island is also ex-centric — that is, it is removed from the dominant centers of authority. Okada is at a dead end when the novel begins. His personality, the dominant force controlling him, leaves him unable to move ahead with his life. He surrenders his legal practice, the powerful, rule-giving profession for which he has studied, and becomes unemployed. If marrying is a step toward having children and nurturing new life, he and Kumiko are unable to make this step together. The symbol of the good that grew between him and his wife, the cat, has vanished. And his brother-in-law Noboru Wataya, whom Okada despises, seems to represent those dominating aspects of his own personality that he cannot see but that crush his relationship with Kumiko.
Spirit water is needed to begin his cure, but the island of Malta will not be enough to make him whole. He must also enter the labyrinth of ancient Crete and submit himself to its mysteries. His labyrinth is a hotel room and its surrounding hallways, but nonetheless he makes the journey, with the help of Creta Kano. The deeper knowledge that he finally discovers frees him to new dimensions of himself. He is ready to have a child, and the child symbolizes all the new possibilities to which he has now opened himself. Certainly a continued and more fruitful marriage is one aspect of this, along with fatherhood and the freeing of the “stuck” energy that has made him unable to let life flow forward. As the dog points out, “No man is an island.” That, apparently, is the meaning of Corsica. And Creta Kano has been the medium through which he has arrived at this healing image.
Creta Kano is hardly alone is playing a healing role in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Other women — Malta Kano, May Kasahara, and Nutmeg Akasaka — all give support to Okada’s process of growth. Viewing Creta as an anima figure, a woman that galvanizes a man to move toward imagined possibilities of himself, the question arises whether she is a real woman or a manifestation of Okada’s psychic progression and, ultimately, his survival.
For analytical insight on this point, I turned to Inez Martinez, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, and current Editor of the Jungian Journal of Scholarly Studies. She points out that, “Even though Haruki Murakami claims that he thinks of women characters as mediums, his female characters have such distinctive personalities that they easily yield to readings that grant them autonomous existence.”
I also asked Dr. Martinez what women as a group might feel about Murakami’s creation of women with a strong anima aspect such as Creta Kano. She observed that, “One realization Women’s Studies has rendered inarguable is that no one can speak for ‘women.’ As a group, we are just as diverse in our perspectives as men. Still, Women’s Studies has also made inarguable that women’s experiences typically differ from those of men, if for no other reason than socialization. One way these differences can manifest is in reading and interpreting literature. For example, men can experience a feminine fictive character as an anima figure, that is, as a numinous figure of his imagination functioning to connect him to his soul. Women are more likely to experience the same character as having autonomy from men’s psychological needs and being more related to their own needs, whatever they may be.”
Dr. Martinez takes a further step with respect to Murakami’s characterization of his women characters, saying, “Murakami also portrays some male characters as mediums. In fact, my reading of Toru in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is as a medium for many characters, male and female. That does not mean that as a character he exists only as a fiction of another character in the novel, for that character’s needs, as anima characters are normally understood to be and do, but that as an autonomous fictive character he is connected in the realm of psyche to many other characters who are affected by what he does there.”
For a man to encounter and follow the anima threatens profound change and the loss of familiar certainties. And, if a man sees his anima in a real woman, he must exercise all of his reason and restraint to understand that the anima is his fabrication, his vision of the energy of his inner possibilities.
That Murakami believes his women are mediums for men is an aspect of what makes his fiction unique and healing. To me, this is an important piece of Murakami’s greatness as a novelist. He is able to give his characters not only psychological depth but also pathways to move forward with the development of their souls. Threatening as it may be to follow the images of the anima, this following offers the opportunity for emotional deepening and spiritual invigoration.
Tad Crawford’s new novel is A Floating Life: A Novel. Kirkus Reviews observed, “At times Crawford seems to be channeling Kafka or Borges … Odd. Offbeat. Strangely shimmering”. An excerpt from the novel can be found at the author’s website.