Knowingly and unknowingly we have trudged into each other’s paths. That is the order of events in life. One on hand, Satoru Nakata has the eerie ability to predict the strangest of occurrences yet has no bearing where each event leads him. On the other hand, Kafka Tamura is driven by his quest to escape a prophecy but constantly allows himself to be overcome by unpredictability. Time and time again, the world that is being dictated by pure whim will take us off our planned course and we must stand up and face it. A prophecy is not to be taken lightly neither is the clear sky, which appears oddly friendly.
“Leeches don’t fall from the sky, do they now?”
Unpredictability is the nature of life. If we could know everything about our lives, we would still not be content. We would act to change things toward a direction that benefits us, derailing others in the wake of the events that would transpire. But why would the rest fall back without reply? The collision course is an inevitability and soon we will once again be plunged into unknown waters. That is the nature of life. Time and events play a strange game, yet some things are certain and those are commonly known as prophecies. Could Nakata have stopped leeches to rain from the sky? Or fish? All he could have done was protect himself while those unwary or unheeded would bask in shock.
Despite the unknowns, Murakami paints an idealistic world where every character pursues the goal that they have set themselves towards the very end. Okawa, the white cat, warns Nakata to veer off the path of his search for Goma. Having never abandoned a task unfinished, he does not relent and ends up in the house of the most sinister man he would ever encounter. The man, named Johnnie Walker claimed to have lived for so long that he could not even recount his age. A harvester of cat souls to make flutes out of them, he too was a methodical man. “Getting things in the correct order, step one to step ten, then back to one again.” Tired of the endless process and an unknown destination of his work, he is eager to end his life, but he needs Nakata’s help. Nakata must kill him in order to save Goma, the cat that he was looking for; it would be murdered with due procedure for the harvesting of another soul.
Nakata stabs Johhnie Walker. Sense of duty. Meanwhile, Koichi Tamura is dead from stab wounds and Kafka wakes up near a Shinto shrine with a bloodied t-shirt and unknown bearings. He took shelter in Sakura’s room, while Nakata walked over to a policeman and confessed of the murder that he had committed. In general, a murderer confessing to a policeman by himself is a dream come true for the man in uniform. In Nakata’s case, the bizarreness of his ordeal worked to the old man’s advantage. Fish rained from the sky the next day. Knowingly and unknowingly, once again we have come across the same eventualities. No one has any idea where we are headed towards, not even the one who leads us.
Human beings like to pretend that they know what they are doing. They would be confident of the outcomes of their actions, but the more they are sure, the more the world protests. Confidence drives the clueless, while wariness prepares the knowledgeable. Both characters in Kafka on the Shore exhibit a distinct humility when it comes to acting out their part. “When a war starts people are forced to become soldiers… Nobody cares whether you like killing other people or not.” Throughout the book, Kafka and Nakata flow towards their place of action like a waterfall down the hills. There is seldom anything unnatural in their movements or their intent; the only uncanny feelings are experienced by the readers who thrown into unknown territory every now and then.
It brings into perspective how each one of us individually squares up to our lives. To an outsider, it brings forth feelings always in relation to themselves. Intimidation, inspiration, and indifference are brought about as a comparison to their own lives. Pure happiness and joy though are born out of compassion and the ability to observe the world in detachment from one’s own self. That is the moment when a person is truly able to understand the world and empathize with its mechanisms. Reading this book requires such a sight. There is not much to be gained in trying to judge the actions of the characters as each is a soldier in a war that they are not aware that is brewing. Kafka, Nakata, Oshima, and Miss Saeki have been handed their guns and signaled to find and shoot their enemies. As readers, we have been plunged into the war too; not as soldiers, but as philosophers and poets.
“No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” Johhnie Walker recites a line from Macbeth after his procedure is completed on one of the cats. He says this quite dryly. It marks a departure from many of the gory incarnations of eerie characters we see in media. A desire for redemption follows visceral deeds, especially when the person knows that it is the sole purpose of his existence. It is the same when Kafka heads into the deep end of the forest whistling to Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things”. Drifting into the dream world, he fulfills the final part of his Oedipus’ prophecy. “War grows within war… [War] is a perfect self-contained being.” Crow reminds Kafka that he must stay strong and recover his true self. The void within him grows while Nakata fights a battle that he had never foreseen.
It is no wonder that Kafka on the Shore remains a book that poses more riddles than answers. In hindsight, it seems devious that the questions are posed more virulently to the readers than the characters themselves as through a surreal sense of purpose they find their place restored in the world that they inhabit. Perhaps going through the reps in the gym methodically while listening to Radiohead is the answer to deciphering this magnificent book.
“My role is to restore what’s here now to the way it should be.”