Sunday, December 9, 2012

Current Treasures: The perfectly magical realism of Woody and Haruki

Left: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Right: The Purple Rose of Cairo by Woody 

„We think it's only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that's just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin. I suppose I'd be shocked, of course, but I don't know, I think I'd be kind of relieved too. Or at least I think I wouldn't be so upset, because that would feel, in some ways, a whole lot more real.“

This is one of my favourite quotes from Haruki Murakami's masterpiece The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It is in many ways essential to the book, reflecting on our society's view on reality and wrapping up the mysticism of the whole story. You could also go as far as saying it's the essence of the book, but then again... there is something about the way the main character cooks spaghetti.

The Chronicle tells the story of Toru Okada, a seemingly over-ordinary and average man, like many of Murakami's main characters. Toru is currently unemployed, living together with his wife Kumiko in a nice suburban house, cooking spaghetti. That's when his life changes. It starts out slowly, with some mysterious phone calls by a seductive woman, the cat that goes missing - and eventually Kumiko who goes missing. Suddenly, Toru finds himself lost in a labyrinth of awkward dreams, prophecies and the dark side of Japan's history - and also caught between a handful of mystic women, such as the sisters Malta and Creta Kano. 

The story of this was much of a riddle to me, as it was to most other readers. Strange things happen almost constantly, strange conversations are replaced again by strange letters and strange people. What I realized however, when I read the last few pages, even then not fully understanding where this was going, was the perfection of this book. How is it possible to capture millions of readers and make them read all of the more than 600 pages, whilst letting them wander in the dark most of the time? How do we get caught up in the same mysterious labyrinth as Toru, why don't we get frustrated by the many half-finished plots and ends? Why do we feel enlightened after reading this book?

I'm not trying to offer any answers. In contrary to my work at The Artifice oder the ISHQ magazine, I don't have to squeeze out some solutions or analyses that could explain the conflict and subject of this work of art - although I love being pressed to do that, when I am. This is my blog, my personal, never-ending, moody electronic column, and what I want to do with it is mainly... to absorb my feelings into words so that you can suck them out of the screen, the keyboard, the pixels. 
So, I hope nobody will be frustrated about the fact that this is all I'm going to say about this fantastic, extraordinary, heaven-sent book that is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

Except I'm going to compare it to another piece of art - a movie, that is. A movie by a great director. My second pre-2000 movie of that director whom I need to see so much more of. An extraordinarily poetic, sweet and realistically magical movie. 
The Purple Rose of Cairo.

"Heaven, I'm in heaven... and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak..." - oh well, where did I hear this fabulous song before? I remembered only after finishing The Purple Rose of Cairo, that I had fallen in love with this melody in The Green Mile
In this way, Woody Allen's quixotic romantic comedy with a melancholic twist managed to make a connection to two movies that have a dear place in my heart - although one I haven't seen yet. But as you all know, this is not the best way The Purple Rose celebrates our love for cinema.
It is only in our main character Cecilia's (ahhh... Mia Farrow) various repeated viewings of a fictional film called - well - The Purple Rose of Cairo, that we fall in love with... oh, with so many things. Cinema (although we already had that love in us...) Mia Farrow, our love for cinema, old films, the 80s - yes this movie is from the 80s... and of course Woody Allen! 

Because Woody Allen makes movies about utterly imperfect and dreamy characters, but he neither dwells in their misery nor the dream world they like to go to. What he does is something in between - or rather, something very else. He lets their dreams come true and change their imperfect reality.
He makes Cecilia's favourite actor come out of the screen because he loves her. He puts some of his hilarious humour into all of this and just the right amount of sugar. The result is unrealistic yet imaginable, comforting though close to depressing and in the end makes you believe in cinema again. 
Not that I had been in a sceptic mood when I watched the movie, but if I had been, I'd certainly be saved now. 
The Purple Rose of Cairo just makes you scream for more, more - MORE of this! More of Woody Allen, more of that magical realism which is fortunately so in fashion at the time, more great movies! So it made me watch Annie Hall instantly. And it'll certainly make me watch Top Hat.

Just like reading The Elephant Vanishes made me read and watch Norwegian Wood, and now read that incredible Chronicle. But you know, right now I feel that I'm really bad at explaining my passion for Haruki's and Woody's work. So I think this is it now. This is my post.
It wants to tell you that I'm really happy about being a person who reads and watches movies, and that I'm growing really fond of that genre called "magical realism". And that, if you ever don't know what to watch or read, you should read this post.

Waving goodbye with a fitting Wikipedia-quote: 
„Magic realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment“.


  1. Great post!
    I love Purple Rose of Cairo. That film made me realise how much I love films, because in a way, I am Cecilia.
    I hope you see more Woody, and Top Hat too.

    I really should read Murakami.

    1. I know, actually your post of the month inspired me to finally watch it!
      I'm not as lost as Cecilia, but I think I love movies about as much as her.

  2. What a terrific post! I love the comparison you made ... it's one I wouldn't have thought of. I relate to Cecelia, because fictional characters have always been very real to me. More real than reality, in some ways. Yes, I am a huge geek. :-)

    I've only read one novel by Murakami: Kafka on the Shore. I really liked it (aside from one traumatic scene involving cats). I'd like to try another ... maybe I should go to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle next.

    1. Thanks! It's true, ficitional characters can seem so more real than the "real" ones sometimes.
      I hope you'll get around reading The Chronicle some time!

  3. Wow, great work here. What an interesting and fair comparison to draw.

    I was really into Murakami in college, particularly The Elephant Vanishes. Some stories in that are just revelatory. And as for Purple Rose, you really did a fine job for describing its world. Very well done!

    1. Thanks. It's a slightly confused post, but that's just me... :)

      I loved The Elephant Vanishes too. I was surprised too, that one of the stories is also the first chapter of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    2. Ohhh that's right, I remember hearing that. That Murakami... he's something else.


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