Book review: Murakami, Haruki, Kishidancho Goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

Tets Kimura, Flinders University, [About | Email]

Volume 17, Issue 2 (Book review 1 in 2017). First published in ejcjs on 27 August 2017.

Book Review: Murakami, Haruki., 2017, Kishidancho Goroshi (Killing Commendatore) Vol 1, Tokyo: Shinchosha, and Murakami, Haruki., 2017, Kishidancho Goroshi (Killing Commendatore) Vol 2, Tokyo: Shinchosha.

Keywords: Murakami Haruki, Japanese literature, contemporary fiction, popular culture.

Haruki Murakami’s latest multi volume novel Kishidancho Goroshi (Killing Commendatore) was launched on 24 February 2017. As has been the trend for the last few novels of the charismatic Japanese fiction writer, no content of the story was released before the publication except the title, Killing Commendatore. A few hours before the book launch in the evening of 23 February 2017, NHK featured the new novel in its 25 minute current affair show Close-up Gendai, even though the best anyone could guess about the book was literally guessing about it. The reportage covered queues at book stores (many of them were due to start selling Murakami’s new novel at midnight) as well as fan’s speculation of the novel. As so many details were unrevealed, the journalistic value of NHK’s story on the book was zero; instead it reported the social phenomenon of the compelling novelist. In fact, as a cargo train carrying Murakami’s books was derailed in Hokkaido on the 23rd, the most newsworthy story on Murakami was informing that people in Hokkaido had to wait patiently for another day. There are “Harukinists” in Japan, just like there are “Potterians” in English speaking countries. Haruki Murakami in Japan is as big as J. K. Rowling—except Murakami writes for adults.

Killing Commendatore is an excellent read. This sounds like a ridiculous claim in a book review, but it is. The book is well-written, well-constructed and well-orchestrated. It contains full flavours of the Murakami world, which are delivered in this book better than any of other previous publications. Those who are crazy about Murakami—there are millions of them—will love Killing Commendatore. However, those who are not, as well as those who have not read him, may find it difficult to comprehend the book.

Murakami established his own fiction style by the mid-1980s. After the “nezumi trilogy,”1 he wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, published in 1985, in which, the narrator enters the metaphoric belowground world. There can be a world beyond what we know—this is a strong message that is carried to readers in his novels for decades. Most of his novels have a world other than this universe, not just by concept but it actually exists in these stories. In Killing Commendatore, for example, the narrator, a portrait painter in his 30s, found and entered the metaphor pathway after killing a dwarf knight commander, who appears to be an imitated copy of a character from a Japanese style painting “Killing Commendatore.” The painting was found in the attic of his new house in the mountains, and it was necessary for the painter to kill the knight commander to save the life of a 13 year old girl, Marie Akikawa, who was modelling for his painting. The role of the knight commander, including the reasons for the act of killing him, is never expressed clearly in Murakami’s latest novel. However, these fantasy characters all sound too familiar to Harukinists—in his previous novels, there are the sheep man in A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) and Dance Dance Dance (1988), Inklings in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985), Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders in Kafka on the Shore (2002), and Little People in 1Q84 (2009). Regular readers of Murakami can instinctively realise that the knight commander is a key character in the Murakami world. As they continue on reading Killing Commendatore, it becomes more and more certain that the knight commander’s punchy existence connects the real and metaphysical worlds, even though this is not spelled out. However, this may only be clear to the Murakami fans. It could be challenging for a first-timer to Murakami to fully figure out the role of the knight commander.

In addition, Murakami’s detailed references to art, literature, and music, again, might be a first hoop to jump through for Murakmi novices. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Franz Kafka are usual sources of reference in his novels—Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka are widely known to anyone with an interest in literature. Murakami mostly refers to well-known international artists, usually those from the West. But unless you are a specialist in history of Japanese literature, who would know Ueda Akinari (1734-1809), especially if you were non-Japanese? Murakami must know that he is no longer a Japanese novelist, but an international novelist. Unlike other “stars” of 1980s’ Japanese literature, such as Ryu Murakami and Amy Yamada, he is still writing fiction and is an international bestseller. Every Murakami novel after The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994 and 1995) has been translated into English within a few years of the original Japanese publication. He has been an international bestseller for more than 20 years—his unusual reference to the classic Japanese novelist may be a barrier for new readers beyond Japan once translated.

Will the book be translated into English by Philip Gabriel, Jay Rubin, or Ted Goossen? Or will it be back to Alfred Birnbaum’s turn? Murakami or not, I am never a fan of translation. Any translation of Japanese literature will lose nuances that are found in the original—there are “lost in translation.” One notable exception was with Michael Emmerich’s moving translation of Banana Yoshimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi. He has not translated Murakami yet. Otherwise, I can be available—my unpublished translation of Murakami’s “Sydney!”2 has been kept in the “My Documents” folder on my computer for over 15 years. (This shows what level of translator I am.)

Certainly being Japanese helps in understanding Killing Commendatore. Marie’s choice of wearing a Cleveland Indians cap makes sense from a Japanese perspective, as Hiroshima Carp won the league pennant in the first time in 25 years when, presumably, Murakami was writing the novel in 2016. Both teams have a C cap, C for Carp and C for Cleveland. Is this also a message to the readers? I am not sure. But there are multiple factors in enjoying little details in Murakami’s novel, other than the serious messages that refer to the meaning of humanity.


[1] Hear the Wind Sing (1979), Pinball, 1973 (1980), and A Wild Sheep Chase (1982).

[2] Murakami’s non-fiction book based upon his observation of Sydney 2000 Olympics. I heard he has no intension to make it published in English.

About the Author

Tets Kimura is an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship holder at Flinders University, Adelaide, where he teaches and analyses international cultural issues, mostly of Japan and Asia. He has won various awards and scholarships including the 2016 Paul Varley Award (Japan Studies Association, USA). He is also a contracted Japanese language interpreter for the Australian Federal government.

Email the author

Back to top