Written in 1982, Haruki Murakami’s The Wild Sheep Chase remains perhaps one of his most renowned literary works. It tells the story of a 30-year-old Japanese man who tries to cope with an approaching midlife crisis and find answers to the questions that overwhelm him. This novel can be considered a sequel to Murakami’s previous books Pinball-1973 and Hear the Wind Sing even though they have little in common besides a couple of main characters.
The protagonist of The Wild Sheep Chase characterizes himself as an ordinary Japanese man. As in the preceding books, Murakami does not specify this man’s name: the events are described from his viewpoint and none of the other characters ever call him by name. It is notable that not a single name is mentioned in the novel at all, only nicknames.
The main character leads a monotonous life, full of reflections on his indifference to the world around him, his unfulfilled dreams, and memories. Since he works in an advertising company, he often deals with advertising photos. He finds a picture of a woman’s ear he likes so much that he decides to find the model that has such beautiful ears. He finds her and they become acquainted, first as friends, and then as lovers.
One day, the protagonist is called by his colleague in the advertising agency. The colleague tells him he was being sought by a strange man, the press secretary of a powerful media corporation. This man wanted to know about a photograph which was used in one of the agency’s advertisements, and was distributed by the protagonist. The photo was sent to him by his friend, the Rat, who had disappeared several years ago. Despite his disappearance, the Rat sent letters to the main character. The protagonist did not want to betray his friend, so he did not tell the man where he got the photo. The photograph itself is of banal North-Japanese scenery: mountains, valleys, and a herd of sheep.
Later, his girlfriend mystically predicts he will encounter a strange man, and that they will hold a conversation about sheep. Indeed, the press secretary finds the protagonist, and forces him to search for one of the sheep pictured in the photograph. This was a unique sheep, somehow connected with the secretary’s boss, Sensei, a powerful right-wing bigwig who was in a near-death condition. The task was to find the sheep before Sensei was predicted to die in about a month.
In their search for the sheep, the main character and his girlfriend travel to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. They check-in into an old threadbare hotel, and suddenly discover the father of the hotel’s manager used to work in the agriculture sector of Japanese economy. Particularly, this man’s work was connected to sheep; he was even called Professor Sheep.
This man tells them that the sheep is some kind of a spirit which pursues its own goals. The sheep had possessed the professor’s body when he served in the army in China, and used him to cross the ocean to Japan. Then the sheep abandoned him and entered Sensei. The protagonist learns that his friend, the Rat, was also connected to the sheep in some way. He remembers the Rat had a house in the Hokkaido Mountains, so he and his girlfriend decide to go there.
The main characters arrive at the house, but it is empty. They settle down in it, hoping that one day the Rat will return. However, the next day, the girl leaves secretly, and the protagonist is left all alone. He gets acquainted with a strange man, dressed in a sheep costume, who promises to tell the Rat that his friend has come to see him. At night, the protagonist is visited by the Rat’s ghost. He learns the sheep had taken possession of his friend’s body, and in order to get rid of the spirit, the Rat committed suicide. He tells the protagonist the sheep had evil intentions; it could not be allowed entrance into the human world. Finally, the Rat tells him to connect some strange wires in the wall clock. Then the Rat disappears.
The next day the protagonist leaves the strange place. On his way back, he meets the press secretary, who is heading toward the Rat’s house. He knew almost everything. When the main character is on the train, he hears a distant explosion, and sees smoke over the mountain where the house was located. The novel finishes with the character returning to Tokyo and going to the municipal beach. He sits on the sand and cries.
Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1982. Print.