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Fantasy is the improbable or unrealistic supposition of a situation. The fictional stories of Murakami are characterized by incidents derived from the real world and consumer culture. He makes reference to names, places, novels and music. The protagonists in his novels are rooted in the ordinary such as the white-collar workers who keep their heads above water and feel happy in their ambitions.
The characters give his novels a quality of emotionality tinged with nostalgia and sentiment. His style is nevertheless modern as it combines fantasy with everyday life. Murakami’s work portrays reality which is twisted and piqued and presents a world surrounded by larger and often sinister forces that do not usually manifest themselves.
The world in which the stories of Murakami take place is simply a literal one. The sequences of cause and effect are altered by forces that can be described as supernatural. However mundane the protagonists in his novel and their lives seem to appear, the schemes of things that Murakami subscribes to do not suffice to lead an ordinary life. His narrators fight external forces that disturb them such as the awful intrusion of things that cannot be explained in everyday life.
A Wild Sheep Chase which is the third novel written by Murakami gives a broader perspective of fantasy in his works. The novel is the story of a young and bored advertising copywriter who is compelled by right-wing power brokers to look for a mysterious mind-possessing sheep.
The sheep had previously stayed in a major right-wing figure known as the boss, manipulating its advancement to gain behind the scenes control of a significant section of the political and media worlds in Japan. It then shunned him, making him to go into a coma after a brain cyst.
This novel portrays a prevailing concern over power and control, specifically the gap between the consensus reality of a modern and democratic society whose direction is determined by the electorate. There is also the actuality that, a significant percentage of the influence comes from the right-wing figures behind the scenes.
The powers in the novel remain in the background and are only seen through their effects. The other world of the novel is in a way representative of the unseen powers and the almost supernatural symbol. The absurdity in the use of such an ordinary animal is characteristic of the works of Murakami.
However, one discovers that the animal is among the twelve Chinese Zodiac signs that to date remains an animal that is not very familiar among the Japanese. It finds its use in this mythical role, though it is not easy to identify confidently what it represents.
Murakami himself denies that he understands it and says that it is something that happens to him subconsciously. However, it is seemingly acceptable to argue that the sheep is representative of an absolute power that has an implicit evilness, perhaps due to its absoluteness.
Moving from the mainland to Japan by use of an agricultural specialist dubbed the sheep professor, the sheep takes over the boss and uses him to initiate control of the politics and the media which is almost behind-the-scenes.
Murakami, in a peripheral manner swipes at the right-wing through the secretary of the boss who is a close confidant. Up to this point the boss has been a mediocre rightwing activist, an angry young man who forever brandishes a samurai sword.
It is probable that he cannot read even after the transformation that causes his being possessed with the sheep. As a right-wing thinker, his theories and concepts on the world are definitely foolish. The most important question is the extend to which he can organize his ranks behind them.
The implication is that power works for its sake and the ideology is simply a façade. The introduction of political elements marks a significant change from the hermetic idylls of the first two novels by Murakami. A Wild Sheep Chase marks a structural change in the relationship the protagonist has with the other world.
In his two novels that precede A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami places the rat and the protagonist on either side of a vertical dividing line in the real and other worlds. In a Wild Sheep Chase, the protagonist and the other world are placed above and below a horizontal dividing line after which the other world is vertically divided into two parts with four pairs of characters.
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Both the rat and the business partner of the protagonist on the other world were born in 1948 while the former lover of the rat and the ex-wife of the protagonist got married at twenty one and divorced at twenty two.
Both the sheep professor and the boss are possessed by the sheep while the secretary of the boss and the owner of Dolphin Hotel have unusual hands. Subsequently, another change is marked when the sheep man, a curious figure that is partly an animal appears at the end of the novel.
The rat makes the instigation and conclusion of the narrative and like the boss, it does not precisely make an appearance in the novel. For most parts of the novel, the appearances are confined to two letters whose addresses are almost illegible and serve to establish him from the outset as the occupant of a different and obscure space.
The first letter has a photograph of a sheep on a Hokkaido pasture and a request for the narrator to apply it during his copywriting jobs. When this is done, the narrative begins with the secretary to the boss visiting to demand that a search be conducted for the title of the sheep which is on the photograph.
When the narrator decides to go to Hokkaido to look for the rat and the sheep, his girlfriend provides for him the next link in the chain. She chooses to stay at the Dolphin Hotel which turns out to be the former Hokkaido Ovine Hall with one floor remaining a museum of the sheep professor.
The sheep professor tells the story of his possession by the sheep and his son is able to recognize the photograph of the rat and guides the protagonist there. The penultimate figure in the chain prior to the reunion of the protagonist and the rat himself is the sheep man, who is a dwarf like figure in a dirty sheepskin.
The appearance of the sheep man causes the other world to attain a clear focus and closes in around the protagonist.
Towards the end of this novel, the narrator directly enters into the other world. His girlfriend in a manner that is inexplicable leaves the farmhouse, and it is clear that a subtle but definite deviation from reality takes place. This is clearly portrayed by the arrival of the sheep man.
In addition to his unusual manner and appearance, it becomes clear that he is linked to things that are not accessible by those in the real world. He says that he was responsible for driving the girlfriend away but she has returned to Dolphin Hotel. The narrator asks whether she has returned to the hotel but the sheep man replies that Dolphin is a nice hotel that smells like sheep.
This brings the reader up short since even if the information about the hotel had been heard from the rat, the isolated existence of the sheep man precludes the fact that he had been there. The suggestion of some sort of continuum that acts as a link between the characters and locations in the novel is reinforced. After the narrator meets the sheep man for the second time, they are engaged in a conversation.
In the conversation the narrator and the sheep man engage in, a major characteristic of the other world is codified. It is not a place the narrator is supposed to be. For the sheep man, it is nice because he does not have any other place to go.
However, for the narrator it is a place that should only be entered by a person who is in serious need. In addition, it is a place that is only accessible to the narrator as his girlfriend is chased away because of the same reason. After a few pages, the narrator is seen cleaning the mirror in the house as he stares at its reflection.
During the time he stares at the mirror, he thinks that he does not see his mirror-flat mirror image. He feels that he sees a different person. He thinks that on the contrary, it is as if he is the reflection of the mirror. The hint takes form when the sheep man visits for the second time.
The narrator looks at the mirror as he comes from the kitchen and sees that the reflection does not show the sheep man in the Lounge. He is alone in the mirror world. The reason behind this becomes clear later when the rat comes to visit; he kills himself before the arrival of the protagonist and takes the sheep with him. He then uses the form of the sheep man to visit the protagonist.
The preface to the arrival of the rat is also characteristic. It is a quiet, cold and absolute darkness in which a visual or auditory perception lacks. Consequently, there emerges a sense of self lacking reference point that can support the idea.
The whole conversation between the narrator and the rat takes place in the darkness, and before the rat starts to tell his story, he requests the narrator to stop the grandfather clock which marks time throughout their conversation.
The rat stands up, opens the door that leads to the grandfather clock and seizes the pendulum hence eliminating all sound. There is removal of the final reference to the real world as the protagonist moves into the non-real world. The rat then tells his story of being possessed by the sheep and how he subsequently commits suicide (Murakami 156).
Most of the elements in this sequence recur in Dance, Dance, Dance, which is the sequel to the novel A wild Sheep Case. Here, the narrator goes back to Hokkaido, with a feeling that the girlfriend who had disappeared from the farmhouse four years earlier is calling him through a recurring dream of the Dolphin hotel.
When he arrives, he finds that the hotel has been rebuilt. Although it retains its original name, it is an ultra-modern tower of luxury.
Echoing the Wild Sheep Chase with the machinations that occur behind-the-scenes, the old owner is forced to a nameless corporation but he finds through political contacts that the area is supposed to be redeveloped. The condition under which he agrees to the sale is a curious one, that the original name of the old hotel be retained.
Inside the new hotel, there is a construct that is similar to the museum of the sheep professor at the Dolphin Hotel, a place which is the abode of the sheep man and is only open to the protagonist. The entry into this other world is through a device that recalls horror films.
The use of two opposed worlds is a feature that is entirely consistent in the novel A Wild Sheep Chase. Murakami employs unreality to shed light into the shadows that characterize real world which is idealized as clean, safe and fair. The success of this concept is evident in his novel.
He manages to wonderfully combine fantasy, mystery and mythology that take the readers through the journey of a man who unrelentingly seeks his identity and that of a special sheep.
On the way, he discovers that not all people are the way they appear, some forces that are beyond the control of individuals exist and that people who seem to be the weakest can as well be heroes. In addition, he in the end realizes that much of his undoing is as a result of his mediocrity and selfish perspective on life.
Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase. London: Donald Last, 2003.Print