Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 31 “Fares, Police, Detergent” has many of Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) usual cuts:
– Section- and chapter-ends are often pared down to end on a better line of dialogue, a more dramatic action, or a more wry tone.
– Parts that could be considered excess or unnecessary are cut back.
– Sexy and questionable bits are cut.
In this chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink make their way back into the city through the subway, have a snack at a grocery store sandwich stand, and then clean up at his apartment. The sexy parts start when they are waiting for their food and they share an abandoned newspaper. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:
The girl claimed the back pages. Some seedy article which addressed the question “Is Swallowing Semen Good for the Complexion?”
“Do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl wanted to know. (323)
The original Japanese version goes on at greater length. My translation follows:
The girl said she wanted to read the back pages, so I took them out and handed them to her. She seemed to want to read an article titled “Does swallowing semen make your skin more beautiful?” Beneath it was an article titled “I was trapped in a cage and forced to have sex.” I had trouble imagining how exactly you would go about having sex with a woman in a cage. There must be some sort of clever way to go about it. But it would require a good bit of effort. Nothing I could ever manage.
“Hey, do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl asked.
This cut seems understandable. Murakami is going for a joke, and I don’t think it’s all that successful. I guess it’s a little funny in a kind of Seinfeld-esque way? But the text isn’t diminished by its absence.
The subsequent sexy cut feels designed to make Watashi seem like less of a perv. After they make it to his apartment, Watashi draws a bath. Here is Birnbaum’s version:
I suggested that the chubby girl bathe first. While she was in the tub, I changed into some salvaged clothes and plopped down on what had been my bed.” (325)
Short and simple. There is a huge cut within this. The Japanese and my translation:
As the tub filled, I told the girl to take the first bath. She put a bookmark in the pages of the book, got off the bed, and fluidly took off her clothes in the kitchen. The way she removed them was so natural that I remained there sitting on the bed, idly watching her nude figure. Her body had a strange build that seemed part child, part adult. There was a large amount of soft-looking white flesh stuck to her, as though someone had taken a normal person’s body and plastered it uniformly with some kind of jelly. It was all so incredibly balanced that unless you were paying close attention you would almost forget the fact that she was fat. The areas around her arms, thighs, and belly were also wonderfully full and taut like a whale. Her breasts were moderate bulges, not all that large compared with the rest of her body, and the flesh on her butt stuck out sharply.
“My body isn’t bad, right?” she said in my direction from the kitchen.
“Not bad,” I responded.
“It took a lot of work to put on this much flesh, you know,” she said. “I had to eat a ton of all sorts of food. Cake and fatty foods, all sorts.”
I nodded silently.
While she was in the bath, I took off the wet shirt and pants I was wearing, changed into my remaining clothes, lay down in the bed, and thought about what to do next.
It’s a little weird that Watashi is staring at this seventeen-year-old girl and enjoying it. But I guess it’s a little prudish to cut it. The girl does have a very erotic feel, even in translation, so it doesn’t lose too much, other than a small amount of direct explicitness. I wonder if editors demanded that it be cut or Birnbaum himself made the suggestion.
The final sexy cut, however, is the most extreme. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:
I popped open my eyes and rubbed my face between my hands. It was like rubbing someone else’s face. The spot on my neck where the leech had attached itself still stung.
“When are you going back for your grandfather?” I asked. (328)
You’d never notice anything without looking at the original. Here’s the Japanese and my version:
I opened my eyes and rubbed my face with both hands. Because I’d shaved for the first time in so long, the skin on my face was dry and stiff like a drumhead. It felt like I was rubbing someone else’s face entirely. The areas where the leeches had gotten me still hurt. It seemed like those two leeches had taken a good bit of blood out of me.
“Hey,” the girl said and put the book by her side. “So, you really don’t want me to swallow your semen?”
“Not at the moment,” I said.
“You don’t feel like it?”
“And you don’t want to sleep with me either?”
“Not at the moment.”
“Is it because I’m fat?”
“Not at all,” I said. “Your body is really nice.”
“Then why won’t you sleep with me?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I do feel like I shouldn’t sleep with you right now.”
“Is it for some moral reason? Does it go against your lifestyle ethics?”
“Lifestyle ethics,” I repeated. The words had a strange ring to them. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about them for a moment. “No, that’s not it,” I said. “It’s something else entirely. Instinct or intuition, something like that. Or maybe it has something to do with my memories receding. I can’t explain it well. I actually really want to sleep with you right now. But that something is preventing me. It’s telling me now’s not the time for that.”
She put her elbows on a pillow and stared at me.
“Are you lying to me?”
“I wouldn’t lie about this kind of thing.”
“That’s what you really think?”
“That’s what I feel.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Prove it?” I repeated, a little taken aback.
“Something that can convince me that you want to sleep with me.”
“I have a hard on,” I said.
“Show me,” she said.
I hesitated for a moment but in the end decided to drop my pants and show her. I was too tired to argue any further, and I didn’t have much much time left in this world; I didn’t think me showing a seventeen-year-old girl my healthy, erect penis would become some massive social issue.
“Hmm,” she said as she looked at my engorged penis. “Can I touch it?”
“Nope,” I said. “But this proves it, right?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s fine.”
I lifted my pants and stored my penis inside them. The sound of a large moving truck passing by slowly rumbled up from the window.
“When will you go back to your grandfather?” I asked.
Hey now! What a scene to cut. Nothing changes drastically without this scene, of course, but it does give the girl a good bit of sexual agency that isn’t present in the translation. And it’s funny! The dialogue is a great back and forth, very strong. Also, it’s just a massive piece of text to remove, but as we’ve seen, this is how Murakami was translated at first.
This was a very exciting cut to find. We see deeper into Murakami’s sense of humor, how these two characters feel about each other, and how Murakami constructs sexuality in his books. It also shows something about the translation/editorial process back in the early 90s. Compared to some of his more recent works, this would probably be considered very tame. But it was cut for one reason or another, whether taste or style.
I don’t think we have many chapters left with the Girl in Pink. Watashi ends by taking her wet clothes to the laundromat to dry them. I don’t remember exactly what happens when he returns, but I’ll be curious to see if and how their sexual denouement is handled.