Discuss the memory of traumatic events like murder, betrayal, injury, or death in “On Parole”, “The Briefcase”, and “The Housekeeper and the Professor”, contrasting the ability to forgive and come to terms with the past by some (Matsumoto, the professor), with an inability to shake off the past in others (Kikutani)
Memories of traumatic events are most overt in the story On Parole, where Kikutani is incarcerated for killing his wife and lover. The story centers on efforts to live his life after prison in the halfway house and later the apartment he rents; however, he is haunted by memories from both prison and his crimes. He has a problem settling into normal society at first because it is hard for him to do normal things like going to the bathroom without asking or walk without marching as he was used to it in prison.
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However, when the memories of his wife resurface, and he goes to the grave to pay his respects, he realizes that he feels no remorse. From a psychological point of view, it can be reasoned that the trauma was so much that he developed the denial that became his coping mechanism. However, even this was temporary because, although he felt no remorse when his new wife tries to set altars in memory of his victims, he reacts violently and kills her.
Evidently, Kikutani is unable to handle his grief from the past, and he fails to forgive himself, which explains his intolerance and ultimate sliding back into his murderous self. On the contrary, while in The Professor, the issue of memory is also overtly discussed, it is in a more technical and much less dramatic and violent sense. The professor apparently suffered from trauma in a car accident, which destroyed his short-term memory, leaving him only able to remember what happened in the previous 80 minutes.
Unlike Kikutani, who tries to deal with his issue by avoiding people and relationships, the professor works hard despite his memory to build a lasting relationship with the housekeeper and her son, whom he calls to help him remember mathematical connotations. He pins names of people and ideas to his suit. In fact, throughout the book, his traumatic memory loss seems to make him a better person, which sharply contrasts with Kikutani (Ogawa, 2009).
Finally, in The Briefcase, unlike the other texts, the idea of loss or past hurt is understated. This is evidenced in the fact that Tsukiko assumes that the Sensei’s wife is no longer there because she died, and this is the same assumption the reader takes until several chapters later when it is made clear that she left him. However, one is forced to ask, given that he has been portrayed as a kind, sensitive, and overall good man, why would she leave him in the first place? The best one can assume is that it is just to Tsukiko that he is nice or that the memories of his marriage life have to lead him to become a better person like the professor. This is contrary to Kikutani, who is over-powered by destroyed by his memories (Ogawa, 2009).
Compare the tense, conflicted attitude of children toward their parents in “Real World” with the relationship between Heisuke and “Naoko”/Monami in “Naoko”, and of Root and his mother in “The Housekeeper and the Professor.”
In the Real World, children see parents mostly from a negative point of view. Adults are relegated to peripheral roles and, to some extent, dehumanized. In fact, they are only identifiable through their attributes or jobs (Kirino, 2009). There are alcoholic fathers, unfaithful mothers, manipulative detectives, pedophiles, and negative faces that children see in adults. The four girls admire Tosh for his rebellion through which he killed his mother and is on the run from the law.
Children in this book see parents as hypocrites, and they despise them. To express these negative sentiments, they try to distinguish themselves by “killing” the identities of their parents and even changing their names as they pursue a rebellious hedonist path, mostly to spite their parents. The relationship between Naoko/Monami and Heisuke is an extremely complex one and, although quite different from the extreme conflict manifested in the Real World, it is characterized by a lot of unresolved issues and tension, especially for Heisuke (Kirino, 2009). When Monami is living as Naoko, there is the complexity of the fact that she is mentally and emotionally his wife, but biologically his daughter.
This brings about conflict when, as a teenager, she starts drifting from him and showing interest in boys. Although this is essentially what her biological make-up compels her to do, it causes her father anguish as he feels it is his wife, not his daughter he is losing. Even when she gets married, these issues are unresolved as he suspects that there was no transition from mother to daughter. He thinks Naoko only assumed her daughter’s identity to give them closure.
This suspicion breaks her father’s heart as he feels it is his wife, not daughter, who is getting married. Root the child in The Professor and The Housekeeper is, however, the complete opposite from the children in the other two books, he clearly loves his mother without a single hint of ambivalence and, according to her, she is often surprised by his maturity (Ogawa, 2009). When she comes home sad after being scolded or harassed at work, he tells her how beautiful she is and comforts her until she stops crying. The difference may be accounted for by his personal attributes, but there is also the fact that, unlike the other children, he was not a teenager, and that may have made him less predisposed to antagonizing his parent (Kirino, 2009).
Compare the endings of “Paprika” and “Naoko” (in the weddings of their respective protagonists). Do Paprika and Naoko truly “disappear”? Why, or why not?
Both Naoko and Paprika are stories based on the surreal and can be loosely classified under the sci-fi genre (Tsutsui, 2013). Their main subject matters involve women who appear capable of switching identities and bodies. In Naoko, a mother’s personality and character take over her draught and in Paprika, Chiba, a successful doctor, uses her alter ego “paprika” to help her patients with their mental problems through entering their dream worlds.
For both books, the solution to the major conflict comes with the elimination of each of the character’s alter egos, and they both get married. In Naoko’s case, although she would have the audience believe that Naoko is gone and Monami, the daughter, is the one occupying her body, her father does not believe this even after she tried to convince him that the split identity as a result of multiple personality disorders.
A part of him still feels that he is cheated on, and the woman who is getting married is actually his daughter, which embitters and heartbreaks him. While the reader has no way of knowing for sure, the fact that there is doubt makes it easy for them to sympathize with Heitsumi because whatever the reality, to him, memories of Monami being Naoko are still strong, and to him, she can never disappear completely. In Paprika, from the conversation between the police officer and the virtual butlers, it is evident that she and Chiba could not exist at the same time, and the fact that Chiba was manifested meant that Paprika had disappeared for good. Therefore, when Chiba was getting married to Kosaku Tokita, it was just her and her Alta ego, which had disappeared along with the data. In addition, the visual content that characterized her and her resources for the dream fixing work disappeared (Tsutsui, 2013).
If “In the Miso Soup” leaves the reader feeling pessimistic about human relationships, how might “The Housekeeper and the Professor” and “The Briefcase” present a more upbeat message about the transformative power of love? Please cite examples
Reading In the Miso Soup, one cannot help feeling pessimistic about the nature of human interactions and relationships as well as the actions that people want to do in order to express themselves. The connection between Kenji and Frank is particularly disturbing (Murakami, 2006). From the onset, Kenji feels that Frank is a dangerous person, and he even suspects, albeit without evidence, that he may be responsible for the recent killings in the town.
However, against his better judgment, he takes him on as a client. His suspicions are confirmed when, in the middle of the book, he witnessed Frank murder three people in cold blood for no particular reason. At this point, one is forced to wonder why Frank would take a chance and let Kenji live after seeing all that. However, what is even more surprising is that Kenji does not run as soon as he has a chance; he does not even go to the police.
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In fact, as the book progresses, the reader notices that he appears even interested in the wellbeing of a man who has just committed multiple homicides. This begs the question: what exactly would pull a man towards someone such a cold, brutal, and most likely psychotic individual? Evidently, the main reason Kenji agreed to work with this American irrespective of his reservation and what came to be true suspicions was money. Evidently, money appears to be the basis of their relationship. Thus, morality and law are ignored completely (Murakami, 2006).
In The Professor, The Housekeeper, and The Briefcase, the dramatic tone is notably different from In the Miso Soup. In fact, critics have argued that both books hardly have any conflict and are simply narrations of people’s lives. While these do not diminish their value as works of literature, the authors could probably have made them more interesting if there were more drama or conflict (Ogawa, 2009).
In The Briefcase, for instance, this could have been achieved through creating a fight between the couple, possibly as the woman insists on knowing exactly what happened to the teacher’s wife, and he refuses to share. Alternatively, the writer could have infused some romance in the story in such a way that there is evidence of direct romantic, emotional, or even sexual ingest, which would develop the theme of love in a much more eventful context.
In The Professor and the Housekeeper, while there are several instances of drama and conflict, these could be stimulated to help to bring out the issue of love’s transformative power, which is covertly demonstrated in the story (Ogawa, 2009). The housekeeper’s son and the professor seem to get along very well, and essentially the old man’s love for the boy serves to improve his character and personality as he becomes even more social and friendly with the housekeeper. To enhance this, the writer could have included a situation where he has a fight with the boy or mother and possibly decides to dismiss them, but later realizes that it is wrong and tries to undo his actions for the sake of love.
Kirino, N. (2009). Real world. London, United Kingdom: Vintage Books.
Murakami, R. (2006). In the miso soup. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Ogawa, Y. (2009). The housekeeper and the professor. London, United Kingdom: Harvill Secker.
Tsutsui, Y. (2013). Paprika: A Novel. New York, NY: Random House LLC.