A Short story by HARUKI MURAKAMI
Published in New Yorker Magazine Issue of 2002-04-15
Tony Takitani’s real name was really that: Tony Takitani.
Because of his name and his curly hair and his deeply sculpted features, he
was often assumed to be a mixed-blood child. This was just after the war,
when there were lots of children around whose blood was half American G.I.
But Tony Takitani’s mother and father were both one-hundred-per-cent
genuine Japanese. His father, Shozaburo Takitani, had been a fairly
successful jazz trombonist, but four years before the Second World War
broke out he was forced to leave Tokyo because of a problem involving a
woman. If he had to leave town, he figured, he might as well really leave, so
he crossed over to China with nothing but his trombone in hand. In those
days, Shanghai was just a day’s boat ride from Nagasaki. Shozaburo owned
nothing in Tokyo – or anywhere else in Japan – that he would hate to lose. He
left without regrets. If anything, he suspected, Shanghai, with its well-crafted
enticements, would be better suited to his personality than Tokyo was. He
was standing on the deck of a boat plowing its way up the Yangtze River the
first time he saw Shanghai’s elegant avenues glowing in the morning sun,
and that did it. The light seemed to promise him a future of tremendous
brightness. He was twenty-one years old.
And so he took it easy through the upheaval of the war – from the Japanese
invasion of China to the attack on Pearl Harbor to the dropping of two atomic
bombs. He played his trombone in Shanghai night clubs as the struggles took
place somewhere far away. Shozaburo Takitani was a man who possessed
not the slightest inclination to influence – or even to reflect upon – history. He
wanted nothing more than to be able to play his trombone, eat three meals a
day, and have a few women nearby. He was simultaneously modest and
arrogant. Deeply self-centered, he nevertheless treated those around him
with kindness and good feeling, which is why most people liked him. Young,
handsome, and a talented musician, he stood out wherever he went like a
crow on a snowy day. He slept with more women than he could count.
Japanese, Chinese, White Russians, whores, married women, gorgeous girls,
and girls who were not so gorgeous: he did it with anyone he could get his
hands on. Before long, his super-sweet trombone and his super-active giant
penis had made him a Shanghai sensation.
Shozaburo was also blessed – though he did not realize it – with a talent for
making “useful” friends. He was on good terms with high-ranking Army
officers, millionaires, and various influential types who were reaping gigantic
profits from the war through obscure channels. A lot of them carried pistols
under their jackets and never exited a building without giving the street a
quick scan right and left. For some reason, Shozaburo Takitani and they just
“clicked.” And they took special care of him whenever problems came up.
But talent can sometimes work against you. When the war ended,
Shozaburo’s connections won him the attention of the Chinese Army, and he
was locked up for a long time. Day after day, others who had been
imprisoned for similar reasons were taken out of their cells and executed
without a trial. Guards would just appear, drag them into the prison yard,
and blow their brains out with automatic pistols. Shozaburo assumed that he
would die in prison. But the prospect of death did not frighten him greatly.
They would put a bullet through his brain, and it would be all over. A split
second of pain. I’ve lived the way I wanted to all these years, he thought.
I’ve slept with tons of women. I’ve eaten a lot of good food, and had a lot of
good times. There isn’t so much in life that I’m sorry I missed. Besides, I’m
not in any position to complain about being killed. It’s just the way it goes.
Hundreds of thousands of Japanese have died in this war, and many of them
in far more terrible ways.
As he waited, Shozaburo watched the clouds drift by the bars of his tiny
window and painted mental pictures on his cell’s filthy walls of the faces and
bodies of the women he had slept with. In the end, though, he turned out to
be one of only two Japanese prisoners to leave the prison alive and go home
to Japan. By that time, the other man, a high-ranking officer, had nearly lost
his mind. Shozaburo stood on the deck of the boat, and as he watched the
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