Ushikawa

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude.

As promised, this week I want to take a look at Book 3. One of the interesting/strange things that Murakami does with Book 3 is to add an additional narrative perspective – the book suddenly starts with a chapter from the point of view of Ushikawa, a creepy messenger/errand boy for the cult in the novel.

The name Ushikawa might be familiar. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner (as in, when I was writing one of my two reviews of the novel), but Ushikawa was also a character in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. He sneaks into Toru Okada’s house in Chapter 13 of Book 3, he makes another house call in 16, and in 19 they talk on the phone.

And that’s the last we see of him for the entire novel.

He’s nothing more than a device that Murakami uses to advance the plot: he delivers a threatening message from Noboru Wataya – cut ties with “the Hanging House,” the residence where Cinnamon and Nutmeg are set up – which gradually becomes less and less threatening until eventually he just helps Toru get in touch with Kumiko via computer and disappears. We get long blocks of dialog that show what a poor bastard he is, but as best I can tell, he doesn’t really serve any other purpose in the novel.

He’s described similarly in both novels – disheveled, bald, an uncanny ability to track down information, clearly a lackey for someone powerful – but he doesn’t appear to be the exact same character. Just the same trope.

In 1Q84, too, Ushikawa is one sad bastard. In Book 2, he’s again used mostly as a plot device, but because he’s the narrative point of view in Book 3, we get extended information about how sad his life is in Book 3, so much so that I even started to feel bad for him – of all Murakami’s characters, he seems to get a raw deal.

And Murakami seems to revel in making him more and more miserable. I noted one passage in particular on 202. Ushikawa is riding around Tokyo on trains, hunting down information about Tengo and Aomame, and as he does, he’s thinking through the different possible connections in his head (connections that we as readers have known for hundreds of pages). Here’s the part just before a space break:

Ushikawa thought about this the entire time he was on the train from Ichikawa to Tsudanuma. He grimaced and sighed and stared off into space, probably without even realizing it. The primary school student sitting across from him was watching him with a strange look on her face. Out of embarrassment he smiled and rubbed the top of his lopsided bald head with his palm. However, that just seemed to scare the girl. She stood up all of the sudden right before Nishifunabashi Station and quickly ran off somewhere.

I felt like this was a bit overkill. We know he’s ugly. We know he’s a sad bastard. Does he really have to frighten primary school kids? Oh well. I guess that’s Ushikawa for ya.

One little language nugget of note: “lopsided” is いびつ in Japanese, and it appears over and over again in the novel. It’s one of those words that Murakami fixates on and uses a lot like 胡散臭い, 具わっている, and 惹かれる. He uses it a lot to describe the new moon that appears in the 1Q84 alternate reality: the new moon is smaller and more lopsided. I probably would have used a word like warped or irregular, but a teaser from Knopf shows that Rubin went with lopsided, which is a far superior choice. So I borrowed that for this week’s translation.

10 thoughts on “Ushikawa

  1. (connections that we as readers have known for hundreds of pages)

    Zing, man.

    he doesn’t appear to be the exact same character. Just the same trope.

    Hm, interesting. What makes you say this? Anything in particular that differentiates the two characters? Is the difference part of the “alternate universe” thing?

  2. You know, I’m not totally sure about this anymore. I read through Wind-up Bird last week kind of frantically, and after you commented, I realized that the events in the novel are also supposed to take place in 1984 and 1985. Which is kind of weird and seems too coincidental. I think the alternate universe probably has something to do with it, but that might not be important. It might be the same character in a different fictional universe…if that makes any sense. Clearly 1Q84 isn’t linked to any of his other works the way that his first three novels were linked (along with “The Twins and the Sunken Continent,” and they way that Wind-up Bird is somewhat linked to them as well).

    I feel like there might be some details that are different too. Ushikawa mentions being married in Wind-up Bird, but I can’t track anything down in 1Q84 just yet. Will have to wait for the translation and I think I’ll understand more.

  3. In fairness to Murakami, Book 3 was originally published in Japan a year later than Books 1 and 2, so Ushikawa’s recapping of a bunch of stuff we learned in the first two volumes maybe wasn’t QUITE so egregious in that context.

  4. The Ushikawa in Wind Up Bird Chronicle shows up in October 1985… Not to give anything away from Book 3 of 1Q84, but the character that appears in Wind Up Bird could easily be a VERSION of the Ushikawa from 1Q84.

  5. Did you see my comment above? I realized that.

    The big question, however, is would it matter at all even if they were supposed to be connected? And I think the answer is no. It matters none.

  6. Do you know of any forum for discussing Murakami books, and especially 1Q84? There are a few connections that it would be interesting to pass by fellow readers. For example; was Fuka-Eri in the book the Mota or the Dota? (Not sure about the spelling since i only listened to it on audiobook), and who was Tengos biological father? Could it have been leader, and therefore make him Fuka-Eris sibling?

  7. Ushikawa might be a more crucial component to the story than many think. Ushikawa, like that second lopsided moon, was attached onto the side of a larger story that was not his own. He stuck with it for a while, helped it come to its conclusion by tightening the circle of Aomame and Tengo, and then vanished after his death.

    Ushikawa and the second ugly moon were of the same character–a conspicuous, omnipresent observer.

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