Shane Croghan, for The Benevolent Supreme Longford Leader, reporting from Tokyo.
July 23rd, 2022
TOKYO – Haruki Murakami says he doesn’t like tennis, you know. He claims he doesn’t care for the dependency on an opponent, nor does he desire competition in any aspect of his life. Haruki is fond of Eric Clapton too, mentioning Clapton’s extremely mediocre 2001 release Reptile not once, but once, throughout his literary oeuvre. Is there a correlation between disdain for tennis and fondness for forgettable soft rock? This reporter was given an unnecessary amount of time and money to find out.
Once, and perhaps still, a literary titan and one of the few truly great living authors, Haruki Murakami seems to have fallen victim to his own self-fulfilling prophecy – that being a novelist is no country for old men. Whether it’s mere age, or the result of his fiery public feud with Bob Dylan, it’s clear that the gentle modern torchbearer of magical realism has changed utterly. Residing in his Tokyo tower block, from which the former novelist rarely emerges these days, a megalomaniacal streak has governed Murakami’s life these past five years or so.
Before my arranged meeting with Mr. Murakami, I spoke to some other residents of the tower block. Forbidden from accessing the roof, they complained of hearing strange noises emanating from the upper levels of the building in the wee small hours. Strangled singing – somewhere in the vicinity of folk warbling, but distorted beyond recognition – endless cackling, and, rarely, what one younger tenant referred to as “pure tasty riffs”. These claims seemed wild, and I’m suspicious of how tasty a riff can be in such an unsuitable acoustic environment, but given some of Murakami’s tabloid appearances in the recent past, I had come prepared for anything. Or so I thought.
Upon entering Murakami’s sizable apartment I found a labyrinth of treadmills arranged like the horrific maze from Pac-Man. The author would later inform me that he was training for an ultramarathon, but couldn’t face the prospect of running outdoors in the polluted air. Despite this concern for the quality of Tokyo air, he kept every window, of which there were dozens, open at all times. He also smoked cheap, nasty Hamlet cigars twenty-four hours a day, going so far as to hire an assistant to sit in his room and smoke beside him as he slept, lest his ingestion of Hamlets let up at any point. This predilection, coupled with the author’s absentmindedness, caused multiple small blazes during my brief stay.
Attempts to sit Murakami down for any kind of traditional interview were immediately brushed aside by the author. I had planned to engage him in a cursory dialogue on the day of my arrival, just to engender some degree of trust between us, but Murakami immediately informed me that he had fallen behind on his ultramarathon training and promptly began running on his maze of treadmills. This would’ve been strange, though somewhat tolerable, but for the background music which was triggered, it would seem, by Murakami’s exertion on the treadmills. It was, of course, the theme from Pac-Man – not that there is much of a theme, just a few notes slapped together and repeated ad infinitum – performed on an electric guitar, in a kind of soft-rock tone. I was later informed, by the increasingly untrustworthy Murakami, that none other than the aforementioned Eric Clapton himself had recorded the electric guitar Pac-Man theme as a personal favor to the Japanese author.
(Editor’s Note – Mr. Croghan has since developed a debilitating aversion to Mr. Clapton’s music, akin to Alex DeLarge’s reaction the compositions of Ludwig Van Beethoven in the latter stages of A Clockwork Orange. In the aftermath of this interview, Mr. Croghan experienced an irreversible adverse reaction to hearing “Wonderful Tonight” in that episode of Friends where Chandler proposes to Monica and fucks it up because they’re all awful people in that show. He now resides in a mental institution, where he spends his days attempting to convene the cast of Friends for a reunion episode, with the exception of Matthew Perry. Croghan intends to cast John McEnroe in the role of Chandler. Upon contacting Mr. Croghan for a quote, he simply responded “Could I be any more serious?” before hanging up.)
I considered going out to interview the residents of the building once again but feared it would be a fruitless exercise, given their reluctance to speak to me the first time. Initially, I felt they were exhibiting the natural weariness offered to any unexpected intruder in a closed, residential environment. However, it was becoming clear that things were more sinister than that. They weren’t afraid of me, they were afraid of Murakami. The man held the building in his tyrannical palm, spewing magical realism and soft-rock video game soundtracks all over the place.
Sensing my frustration, in a rare moment of empathy, Murakami suggested that I take his tennis racket – signed by Eric Clapton – and head out to the “electric well” for some meditative time. Bizarre an approach as this sounded, anything felt preferable to psychosis-inducing routine of the man’s indoor ultramarathon prep. Gripping the taped handle of the racket, strings pressed into my chest, I headed out to discover what exactly constituted an electric well. Of course, as I entered the hallway in the ultra-modern tower block, I realised that I’d already traversed the building extensively, encountering neither sign nor mention of an “electric well”. After a cursory look around the upper floors of the building, I figured that the nearest thing to an “electric well” was the elevator itself. So I hopped inside, and went up to the roof for the first time, ignorant to the implicit warnings of my resident interviewees.
A ping and a whoosh and I stepped from the exceedingly clean, sleek elevator out onto a roof that was almost entirely covered by a decaying hard surface tennis court. The sheer height of the tower block made it quite difficult to breathe properly. The air was thick, almost acidic, and I could nearly feel my lungs withering. Perhaps Murakami’s insistence on training indoors was reasonable, in spite of his madcap methodology. Through the dense blanket of mist and near fog and godknowswhat toxins, I discerned a figure holding the base line on the far side of the net. There was a strange sound too, a kind of high pitched warbling – “All I reaaaaalllly, wannnnaaaaa dooooooo…” – I walked along the side of the court and tentatively made my way around the net.
Some kind of bastardised robotic Bob Dylan caricature snapped into focus as I pushed through the thick mist and arrived at the far side of the court, kissing the edge of the dizzying rooftop. Greeting me was a crudely manufactured representation of the Nobel Prize winner, slapped together from all manner of old household appliances. A low-res picture of the actual Bob Dylan was sellotaped clumsily to a bucket atop the body of the robot, and a mishandled tennis racket served as a makeshift guitar prop. To see a folk icon like Dylan, born in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, gone electric like this… Well, it was something of a shock to say the least. I took a moment to boo Dylan uncontrollably before pulling myself together and assuming my journalistic stature once more. My questions remained unanswered however, as this electric Dylan seemed to be nothing more than a glorified jukebox. After a series of questions culminating in “Can you hear me?” I inadvertently triggered Dylan to launch into a rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, the second track from his 2009 release Christmas in the Heart. Alas, it was far from Christmas in this reporter’s heart. Winter perhaps.
After some fruitless attempts to shut Dylan off, I resigned myself to gazing out emptily into the smog above the city, hoping to at least take away some sense of modern Tokyo from this experience. Sometime later, as Dylan entered the final stretch of his Christmas album, Murakami emerged onto the rooftop, ranting about the disturbing noise. How he could have heard an animatronic 82 year old folk singer above the din of Clapton’s Pac-Man cover was beyond me, but I was hopeful that he could at least shut Dylan up. Alas, Mr. Murakami, unsurprisingly oblivious to the absurdity of the situation simply stood on the far side of the court holding a half-sized, bright pink guitar.
“Ah, Mr. Reporter! I trust you enjoyed the well. You must be up here for this evening’s main event, eh?”
He winked at me, flashing a cheeky grin. Murakami was absolutely sweating buckets, I could almost feel the sheer viscosity of the man’s exertion from across the court. Moving laboriously, he stepped up to the baseline opposite Electric Dylan.
A breezy Murakami, channeling Danny Dyer’s portrayal of Roger Federer in the 2020 biopic Grand Slam Geezer, arrogantly lofted the tennis ball into the air, bringing his guitar/racket forward with all the force a septuagenarian semi-retired novelist can muster. Not only did the haphazard racket thrust fail to meet the fuzzy green tennis ball, but it flew out of Murakami’s hand entirely, and clean off the roof of the building. Before I could react, Murakami was across the net with surprising rapidity, scolding Electric Dylan for throwing him off. Mustering an impeccable John McEnroe impression from Christ-knows-where, Murakami spun around screaming that “I could not be serious”. Imploring me, suddenly thrust into the role of umpire, to call a fault. He ripped the racket-guitar from Dylan’s hands and flung it in my direction. Again, he missed by a considerable margin and sent another makeshift tennis racket crashing to the unsuspecting Tokyo streets far below. Before I could respond, he was lashing out at Dylan again, weakly pummeling his monstrous creation. I darted for the elevator, taking one last look at the writer who once enthralled me with an erudite description of a man cooking pasta. His knuckles were bloody now. Wild screaming about the Nobel Prize Committee drowned out a crackling rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.
Five years ago, a celebrity encounter of this nature would be cause for scandal. In our current climate, I was merely grateful to escape without Murakami removing one of my limbs and eating it in front of me.
Shane Croghan is an Arts & Culture & Auld Lads Scrappin’ correspondent for The Benevolent Supreme Longford Leader.
Haruki Murakami is a supposedly retired novelist and indoor marathon runner. His new book – ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About How The Nobel Prize Committee are a Pack of Wankers’ – is out now.