“Watch out. The gap in the door…
it’s a separate reality.
The only me is me.
Are you sure the only you is you?”
- The Head in the Bag, PT
In the following essay, I will attempt to weave together the events and themes of three distinct pieces of storytelling, Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 (book 1), Katsuhito Ishii’s film A Taste of Tea, and Hideo Kojima’s videogame Playable Teaser. Each tale is distinct in its use of surrealism, parallel realities, and non-linear storytelling. 1Q84 follows the story of two characters, an assassin and a writer, living in a parallel reality of 1984 Tokyo. A Taste of Tea is about a family living in rural Japan plagued by various absurd life events. Kojima’s Playable Teaser is the first person account of a man tortured by the murder of his family at his own hands. My readings of all three stories converge in that, as of this moment, I have only read book 1 of 1Q84, leaving much of the story open and unfinished, while both A Taste of Tea and Playable Teaser end in ways that leave them both open for great amounts of interpretation. All three stories tie together in their use of parallel realities, absurdity, and non-linear storytelling to highlight the momentous yet indescribable shifts that occur when life presents us with important, monumental decisions. We as individuals create two universes when decisions are made: reality –the path taken—and non-reality—the path not taken.
The parallel Tokyo created in 1Q84 is born when Aomame decides to step out of her taxi and descend the expressway escape route. The cinematography must be addressed when considering this great decision; Aomame is sitting in traffic, a symbol for the flow of “normal” life, when she decides to diverge from the path. The highway and long line of cars represents everything going as normal, or the reality that Aomame has been living in for her entire life. Her decision to “leave the road” creates a new life, or a dramatic departure from her old path onto a new one. The events of the novel after Aomame’s descent take place in 1Q84, not 1984.
In A Taste of Tea, each character is going through either a monumental life event or a seemingly basic life event. Each life event is significant to each character even if some do not seem so, like Sachiko’s backflip or Akira’s poses. Other events, like Hajime’s puberty or Yoshiko’s animations, appear to be more “significant” in the grand scheme of most individuals lives, but this does not appear to be the case. Each event is significant to the character achieving or experiencing their event. The fulfillment of these various odd events manifests differently for each character in odd, absurd, and whimsical ways. Ishii does this to highlight that we each encounter the absurd when we consider the motives of other individual’s lives; the successes and failures of my life are dramatically different from that of yours or somebody else’s. My experiences may appear absurd and insignificant to you but to me they have great importance. As a result, we each live in our own reality that parallels the realities of others, including those in our own family.
Kojima’s Playable Teaser follows an unnamed man during his decent into hell. The man is forced to walk through the corridors of his home over and over again solving puzzles while the ghost of his murdered wife haunts him. The game opens with the same quote I used to preface this essay, suggesting that the man is living out two separate realities. As the game progresses, conflicting reports emerge as to the events of the death of the man’s wife. The reports suggest that another murder has taken place in a similar manner, and it quickly becomes unclear which husband is being tortured for which wife’s murder. The presence of the second murder narrative suggests the existence of a parallel world and perhaps the presence of another ghost in the house. The game suggests that the life events of others effect our life events in ways that we do not fully comprehend. Kojima is suggesting that because a man decided to kill his wife another man may have been inspired to do the same, thus creating two lives and two deaths intertwined; a new reality sprung from one.
All three Japanese authors are interested in the presence of the “other” in relation to an individual’s reality. For every one reality there exists an alternative that was chosen or left behind. All three authors do not pass judgment on the choices of their characters but rather place them in worlds that ask us as readers to think about the character’s decisions. These “alternate realities” appear neither good nor bad but rather different, provocative, and ephemeral. These stories ask us to call into question what kinds of decisions we make in our daily lives, as well as the decisions we do not make.
Blake Greene, 2016