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  • Alan Bray

Let's Step Outside


Kino’s bar is a modest success. We learn more about “the man.” “My name is Kamita,” he said. It’s written with the characters for “god” —kami—and “field” —“god’s field,” as you might expect. It’s pronounced “Kamita.”

The first two paragraphs of this next section are in imperfect time that collapses four months. Then we have a specific scene. While Mr. Kamita is at the bar, two guys come in to drink expensive wine. Kino thinks they may be yakuza, gangsters. They cause a disturbance and Kino asks them to quiet down. They become belligerent and threaten Kino, but Mr. Kamita suddenly appears and calmly challenges them to “step outside.” Kino is quite anxious that Mr. Kamita will be hurt or even murdered but he comes back into the bar after a period of time and asks for a towel to clean his hands, refusing to say what happened. After he leaves, Kino remembers a situation where he witnessed a yakuza beating the tar out of two guys and imagines that Mr. Kamita’s encounter with the two gangsters was similar. This is an interesting device—Kino doesn’t see Mr. Kamita’s confrontation with the gangsters; instead, the implied author has him remember a possible parallel, a sort of mise en abyme, if you will.

We will.

There is a theme of creatures coming into Kino’s bar, the cat, Mr. Kamita, the two gangsters—who are evil and threatening and are disposed of “outside” the bar. There will be other visitors to the bar, both good and bad. Mostly bad.

Is it too soon to speculate that Mr. Kamita is a sort of guardian spirit sent by someone to protect Kino?

No.

Mr. Kamita’s name is ambiguous, its pronunciation is ambiguous, which is why he specifies that it should be pronounced a certain way. But the meaning “god’s field,” seems to fit the context above. To expand on this, I think his name refers to a plot of land where a god’s shrine is situated. He is the field that holds the god, “he” is a holy place.

Huh.

Another layer is Kino himself. As the character narrator, he shows himself experiencing the situation with Mr. Kamita and the gangsters and his subsequent association with the fight he witnessed. But Kino doesn’t show much internal reaction. The two gangsters smoke, and Kino doesn’t like that. When the men argue, Kino decides Mr. Kamita is disgusted by their behavior and that, as the bar owner, he has to do something. “I have to get this situation under control, Kino realized, I need to step forward and take care of this.” Then as the argument escalates, he understands he may be assaulted. “Kino steeled himself for something bad to happen. Sweat began to pour from his armpits.” Then Mr. Kamita intervenes. Kino’s only shown reaction is to remember the incident from the past.

What’s missing? If Kino had a normal personality, we could speculate that he would feel anger and fear at the gangsters, and then anxiety and possibly intense relief at Mr. Kamita’s intervention. And maybe shame at not doing more. But what we are shown is that after Mr. Kamita leaves, no more customers come to the bar that night and neither does the cat. Kino has the memory that helps him understand more about “a mystery.” So we don’t see a lot of internal reaction but plenty of external action. In fact, arguably it’s all internal. Kino experiences a threat and is protected against danger by a mysterious, perhaps non-human entity. Emotions are represented and/or allegorized by other characters.

The next “visitor” to the bar is a woman. “About a week after the incident, Kino slept with a female customer…He wasn’t sure if she would be classified as beautiful.”

This is a significant comment that reveals something about Kino. He isn’t sure if the woman would be classified as beautiful—the implication is that he doesn’t know or trust his own judgement. He relies on what he thinks others would think. Kino lacks an identity.

The woman “had been to the bar several times before, always in the company of a man of about the same age who wore tortoise-shell framed glasses and a beatnik-like goatee.” The woman talks to Kino about their mutual enjoyment of jazz. One night, she comes in alone and winds up showing Kino numerous cigarette burns on her body—apparently inflicted by the goateed man.

A paragraph break, and then “Kino couldn’t remember now what had led him to sleep with the woman that night. Kino had felt, from the first, that there was something out of the ordinary about her. Something that triggered an instinctual response, warning him not to get involved.”

But he does get involved, taking the woman upstairs to his apartment after closing time (again outside of the bar) and having sex most of the night in what’s described as an intense, almost animalistic fashion.

Hmmm. Another “creature” coming into Kino’s bar. Apparently, she and the goateed chap have been having S and M sex, but she then takes a liking to Kino and wants to display these signs of pain to him.

Well, I suppose we’ve all had some wild days (and nights), but what’s going on here? The woman and her companion are shown as being “out of the ordinary” and repellant. Kino doesn’t know why he sleeps with the woman; he’s aware of an instinctual response not to get involved but does get involved.

Our psychologist friends would probably say letting someone burn you with cigarettes during sex has a lot to do with wanting to feel pain intensely, as in wanting to feel authentic because you usually don’t. We don’t know much about the woman, but we do know that Kino himself has a lot of difficulty feeling emotions. His wife was unfaithful to him, and they divorced, but he doesn’t really feel anger or sadness. He doesn’t know what he feels. So he hooks up with a woman who (maybe) doesn’t know what she feels and acts it out instead.

The woman returns to the bar several times, accompanied by the goateed man and makes no reference to the sexual encounter with Kino. “Kino sensed something vicious entwining itself about the couple, as if there were a deep secret only the two of them shared.” Kino thinks that sooner or later, the woman would return alone to have sex with him again and show off her new burns.

“Kino didn’t know when it would happen but felt sure it would someday. The woman would decide that. The thought made his throat dry, the kind of dryness no amount of water could quench.”

So he apparently is both repelled by sex with the woman and also obsessed by it.

It’s notable that Mr. Kamita, Mr. Guardian Spirit Kamita, doesn’t interfere in this whole situation with the woman. You’d almost expect him to, expect him to give Kino some advice, or assault the goateed fellow. But there’s no mention of him in this section. Maybe he wants Kino to learn something.

Ooh.

‘Kay Till next time, my friends.

#Kino #Murakami #AlanBray