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Murakami Haruki: TV People (1990)

*To read the story in the original Japanese, click here.

*To read Alfred Birnbaums English translation, click here.
Murakami Haruki (1949- ): Murakami Haruki is the most widely translated Japanese
novelist of his generation. Murakamis first novel, Kaze no uta o kike (1979; Hear the
Wind Sing), won a prize for best fiction by a new writer. From the start his writing was
characterized by images and events that the author himself found difficult to explain but
which seemed to come from the inner recesses of his memory. Some argued that this
ambiguity, far from being off-putting, was one reason for his popularity with readers,
especially young ones, who were bored with the self-confessions that formed the
mainstream of contemporary Japanese literature. His perceived lack of a political or
intellectual stance irritated serious authors (such as e Kenzabur), who dismissed
his early writings as being no more than entertainment. Murakamis first major
international success came with Hitsuji o meguru bken (1982; A Wild Sheep Chase), a
novel that acquires an eerie quality from the mysterious sheep that comes to possess the
narrators friend, known as the Rat. The narrator and the Rat reappeared in
Murakamis next important novel, Sekai no owari to hdoboirudo
wandrando (1985; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), a fantasy that
was successful with the public and was the winner of the prestigious Tanizaki Prize.
One of Murakamis most ambitious novels, Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru (199495; The
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), represents a departure from his usual themes: it is devoted in
part to depicting Japanese militarism on the Asian continent as a nightmare.
Andguraundo (1997; Underground) is a nonfiction account of the sarin gas attack
carried out by the AUM Shinrikyo religious sect on a Tokyo subway in 1995. The
novel Suptoniku no koibito (1999; Sputnik Sweetheart) probes the nature of love as it
tells the story of the disappearance of Sumire, a young novelist. Subsequent novels
include Umibe no Kafuka (2002; Kafka on the Shore) and Afut dku (2004; After
Dark). Several short-story collections, including Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006),
translate Murakamis stories into English. He also wrote a memoir, Hashiru koto ni

First published in Bungei shunju January 1990. It originally appeared under the longer
title TV (TV ppuru no gyakush, literally "The TV People Strike
Back"); it received this shorter final title for all further appearances. Birnbaum's English
translation originally appeared in The New Yorker September 10, 1990.

tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (2007; What I Talk About When I Talk About
Running), which centers on his love for marathon running. An experienced translator of
American literature, Murakami also published in Japanese editions of works by
Raymond Carver, Paul Theroux, Truman Capote, Ursula K. Le Guin, and J.D.
Salinger. (Encyclopdia Britannica)
Study Questions
1. Describe the first-person narrator. Where is he located (temporally and spatially)?
Who is the you whom he repeatedly addresses? Describe his tastes/interests, job,
marriage, relation with supervisor/colleagues, mental state, eccentricities, etc. Is he a
reliable narrator? Why does he refer to himself as a modern-day Luddite?
2. Describe the TV People. How does the narrator respond to them, and they to him?
Do they actually exist?
3. How do the TV People disrupt the narrators normal sense of reality, eventually
causing his world to crumble? Are the TV People to be read as a symbol/metaphor for
something? If so, what?
4. How do the narrators colleagues respond to the TV People? What happens when the
narrator brings up the subject of the TV People with one of his colleagues? Why this
response? Is everyone in on it, as it were?
5. Describe the wife. Describe her personality, tastes, job, relation with husband, etc.
Why doesnt she say anything regarding the new TV?
6. Discuss the function/significance of the motif of the ticking clock.
7. Describe the sudden shift of mood that begins on page 210.
8. Discuss the possible causes for the wifes absence/disappearance in the final scene.
According to the TV People, what has happened to her? Why do they know? Explain
the TV People representatives comment: Its gone too far. Shes out there.
9. Discuss the narrators dream (described on page 212) and its significance.

I dream about a meeting. Im standing up, delivering a statement I myself dont understand.
I open my mouth and talk. If I dont, Im a dead man. I have to keep talking. Have to keep
coming out with endless blah-blah-blah. Everyone around me is dead. Dead and turned to
stone. A roomful of stone statues. A wind is blowing. The windows are all broken; gusts of
air are coming in. And the TV People are here. Three of them. Like the first time. Theyre
carrying a Sony color TV. And on the screen are the TV People. Im running out of words;
little by little I can feel my fingertips growing stiffen. Gradually turning to stone.

What is the raw material, manifest content, and latent content of this dream? Does
the narrator actually awake from the dream, as he thinks? Or is he still asleep and
dreaming through the final episode? Explain.
10. Is the final episode a dream, a hallucination, or reality? What is the meaning of the
airplane that is being built by the TV People in the TV? Why does the narrators hand
begin to shrink in the final lines of the work?
11. Discuss the final lines. Will the phone ring, as the TV People have predicted? What
is a likely conclusion to this story? Why does Murakami leave us hanging in suspense?
Further Reading
1. Michael Seats. Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanese
Culture. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.
2. Japan Foundation. A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World.
Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2008.
3. Matthew Strecher. Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of
Haruki Murakami, Journal of Japanese Studies 25.2 (Summer 1999): 26398.