Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami


Here is how I perceived Almost Transparent Blue to be written, I think:

Ryu Murakami: “I am going to write a book in past-tense first-person. To do this I am going to occupy the perspective of a narrator. I will allow the narrator to have the same memories I have, but I’m willing to change or not change those memories for whatever reason, I think.”

Narrator: “I am going to convey selections from my memory of my life. To do this I am going to occupy the perspective of a character that is myself-in-the-past. I am willing to include things the character might not have noticed, in the moment, with their full attention, but I will not include things the character was completely unaware of or didn’t think or feel or know at the time.”

Character: “I seem to be exactly what is conveyed with the entirety of the book and what each reader uniquely thinks and feels while and after reading the book.”

The tone—or in what manner the narrator is influencing me to think and feel about what he is conveying—of Almost Transparent Blue seemed consistently to be “this is something that happened.” Similar to how concrete reality doesn’t tell me what to feel or think about it I didn’t feel that the narrator was saying “this is funny” or “this is emotional” or “this is absurd.”

Some books with a tone of “this is something that happened” contain only concrete descriptions, with little to no abstractions or thoughts. Almost Transparent Blue—which has abstractions, thoughts, feelings—was more like “this is something that happened from the perspective of one character, who viewed their own thoughts and feelings also as ‘things that happened,’ and so did not attempt to interpret them for himself or an imaginary other.”

I would describe the character, Ryu, as calm and observant in an almost idly confused manner, as a result of being aware of and affected by the “mysteriousness” of existing in the universe, as opposed to the “instability” (The Easter Parade), “tediousness” (The Book of Disquiet), “indifference” (The Stranger), “shittiness” (Woodcutters), “absurdity” (Breakfast of Champions), “insignificance” (The Sirens of Titan), “loneliness” (Good Morning, Midnight) of existing in the universe, I think.

He seems attentive to details that are psychologically irrelevant to what’s happening in the scene, in terms of the social situations, in a manner that makes it seem like he is being affected by a larger confusion or idleness, like when, due to idleness or boredom or confusion, you stare blankly and accidentally focus on something you normally wouldn’t, then begin thinking about it—but while feeling a “gnawing” sensation that there are other thoughts you’re not thinking about because you’ve become fixated, almost accidentally, on something that has no emotional bearing on you.


Because Ryu seemed like a real person to me I felt that he had seven main “threads” simultaneously/continuously occurring—

1. what his body/face are concretely doing
2. what he hears himself and others saying
3. what he’s focused on listening to or looking at (usually not related to 1. or 2.)
4. what he’s thinking (usually not related to 1. or 2. or 3.)
5. what he’s feeling physically
6. what he’s feeling emotionally (rarely conveyed)
7. what he feels existentially (see central event/theme)

—of which only one to three, I think, could be conveyed in each moment. It seems like the narrator chose, most times—but not always, I feel—which “thread” to focus on by choosing the one that, in the moment, seemed most prominent, for whatever reason, to Ryu, in his state of idle confusion, not what seems most prominent to someone in the future attempting to form a rhetorical message from a set of past occurrences.

This creates, to me, the above “layered” effect because it seems like the only message conveyed is something like “Ryu has as much of a memory and as complex a consciousness as a real person in concrete reality does,” causing me to automatically at least attempt to view Ryu in that manner.

I think I can differentiate a novel based on memory—which is how I view Almost Transparent Blue—from a novel based on imagination pretty easily, because to convincingly portray a character as having seven continuous/simultaneous “threads” would require seven very large first-drafts, one for each “thread,” which seems almost impossible to completely “make up,” but is readily available (and easily editable, searched, organized) to people who have a memory of their life.

After I discern that a novel is based on memory I think I can discern if the novel is based on distant memory (if much of it is summarized, if dialogue is paraphrased, if some characters seem to not have all seven “threads” occurring simultaneously/continuously) or recent memory combined with meticulous, patient, “other”-focused “study” of the memory (if much of it is in scenes, if dialogue is not paraphrased, if the other characters in the book seem like they have all seven “threads” occurring simultaneously/continuously).

In Almost Transparent Blue all eight of the main characters seemed like real people, in that I was able to assume each had seven “threads” simultaneously/continuously occurring. Reading it (after the third or fourth reading, I think) I could “feel” that Ryu Murakami had studied each of the eight characters’ dialogues and actions, in his memory—in a manner that, thinking about my own memory of other people, seems like it required high levels of concentration, over long periods of time, with the first “study” occurring maybe as it happened—for what each of them were feeling emotionally, feeling physically, feeling existentially, focused on ostensibly, focused on privately, thinking about.


More From Thought Catalog

  • JamesFranco'sEgo

    long story bro

    • tao


  • shoehorn

    “Sometimes I felt encouraged to continue by a feeling that I now felt more excited to write fiction, and that if I read an essay like this by someone else, on the internet, I might also feel more excited to write fiction.”
    i think you accomplished your goal.

    • tao


  • Michael Koh

    “I could see into the kitchen from where I sat.”

    There is something about this phrase that I think is genius.

  • Interested

    Brilliant article.

    I would love to know more about “The Back You Want To Kick” by Risa Wataya

    • tao

      i think it isn't translated to english

  • Nunsypher

    I can't wait to read your next novel. Read Philip Roth too :)

    • tao

      my next novel


    • Jonny Ross

      philip roth

  • Morgan

    I've never read “Almost Transparent Blue” so I only wanted to read parts of this. Now I want to go read the book so I can finish this essay.

    • tao


      i can mail you my copy for $5 paypal

      • Morgan

        That's a good deal. Will you sign it?

  • mario

    takashi murakami.

    • tao

      ryu murakami's goodreads 'bio':

      'Ryū Murakami is a Japanese novelist and filmmaker. He is not related to Haruki Murakami or Takashi Murakami.'


  • David Fishkind

    nibrole seems so sweet

    • tao

      chewy ass nibroles

  • kdub

    this is extremely interesting and i'm probably going to read it again later. slowly.

    • tao

      sweet sweet

  • BK

    I love this. absolutely.

    • tao



  • megan boyle

    “I think that scene is 'touching' to me because—by seeming to have no purpose except to non-rhetorically relate what seems, to me, like a memory—it promotes, or is evidence, to me, that a single specific experience that doesn’t cost anything, and has no effect on anyone that isn’t involved, and that doesn’t have to be known by anyone else can be 'worth more' to a person than years of comfort or love or accomplishment or millions of dollars or the respect and admiration of thousands. That a single person, or two people, using only themselves and each other, can easily create an intense, unrecorded, unshared memory that is more emotional, memorable, and affecting than winning the lottery or getting a masters degree or even 'falling in love,' maybe, seems 'beautiful' and exciting and affecting to me. I think I’ve had experiences like this even when alone, and even when feeling conventionally 'negative' feelings, like being very lonely or feeling extremely desperate. These moments—rather than 'accomplishments' or other hierarchal activities, or even some form of long-lasting comfort or calmness, or something—seem to be what I 'want' most, if I want anything, in life, based on what I know currently. When I’m aware of this, and believe it, to a certain degree, I feel calm, I think.”

    me too…

    good job

    viral ass transparent blue

    • tao

      good job changing ” to '


      • Brian McElmurry

        I liked this part too. Seems transcending.

  • Jordan

    i felt inspired to change, i think, or 'remembered,' rather, a 'calmer, more [something] “version of myself”' that i seem to only be able to concretely associate with 'working on things in the library' or 'being alone in my bedroom working on things in a voluntary, “camly excited” manner,' that i have maybe not experienced in the past few days, after reading this essay

    i enjoyed reading your 'slimmed down' version of his conversation with 'okinawa'

    i felt excited about the possibility of participating in an orgy, i think, or excited, possibly, about something else, while reading your summary of the orgy in the book

    good job bro

    • tao

      seems like i imagine you in an orgy 'wandering around' with a 'glassy' eyeballs…sort of with a somewhat 'tense' neck/head area…slowly moving around, walking, almost with tears on your eyeballs

  • christopher lynsey


    • tao


  • Hilson

    i am pretty excited to read this, i wrote my senior work on this book a couple years ago.

    is there anyway you can put it together in a printable format. i want to read off the computer screen, on paper, at a place convenient to me such as my desk or toilet.

    • tao

      if you email me at binky.tabby [at] i can email you it in one i think

      maybe i can add a page 9 that has everything

  • kelly huckaby

    about 3/4 through reading this for some reason i remembered being 12 years old and sitting alone at the front of the bus on the way to school, feeling very sad and lonely after having returned from visiting 40ish cousins in malaysia and trying not to cry the whole way.

    i kept thinking “if somebody tries to talk to me i'm going to tell them my cat died.”

    • tao




  • bob

    I think you got an A on this essay at nyu

    not always good but sometimes great.


  • Robertbenesh

    I'm currently reading the Japanese version of this (as a part of my dissertation) after a few reads through in English, and I certainly feel that the balance between the perspective of the narrator and the perspective of the character have changed across translations, but I was having difficulty pinning it down. Your writing on the subject was very clear and concise and helped me greatly in understanding these differences. I find it to be very strange timing that you posted this in a time when I am focusing on this work so heavily.

    • tao


      i feel interested in the difference re english/japanese, if you would like to share your thoughts

      • Robertbenesh

        It's somewhat difficult to explain without spiraling into detail, but one of the main features I found was that the character of Ryu seemed somewhat more sympathetic and caring toward Reiko, and the narrator's perspective seemed something more–to me, like a sense of loss because of a love he allowed to escape him. As if, in retrospect, he feels guilt for not attempting to build a romantic bond between him and Reiko, realizing after the event that she was much more important to him than he originally understood. There seem to be several moments like this one where the perspective of the narrator Ryu seems to indicate that he wanted to revisit this time of life through this piece of work to better understand the opportunities he missed and the experiences that still weight heavily on him. But then again I could be making all this up.

      • tao

        thanks for sharing your thoughts, i felt that the narrator was more sympathetic toward reiko than the character, and that the narrator was more sympathetic because in retrospect he felt that reiko probably liked him in a way that he didn't like her, and simply sympathized with that, maybe as a vicarious source of sympathy in whatever unrequited situation he might currently be in (maybe he views lilly as an unrequited situation currently), or something

  • Chillwave Gonzales

    Having insomnia, and am chilling with this.

    • tao

      chillwave gonzales


  • Nicholas

    just ordered a copy off amazon. awesome essay, tao! very impressed :)

    • tao

      hi nicholas


  • Faiz Khan

    “There doesn’t seem to be any critique of society, but mostly only of existence, or of self, or of seemingly nothing, in this book.”

    this sentence made me feel 'very bleak'

    • tao

      hi faiz khan


  • stephen

    I liked this a lot, Tao. I'm glad you wrote it. After reading Ryu Murakami's story in Zoetrope, I'm very interested in reading more by him. The section of your essay that Megan quoted in her comment, that section made me feel gratified and excited. Great job bro

    • tao

      hi stephen


      enjoyed reading your comment

      glad you felt gratified and excited

  • Vicky Lim

    I liked this essay, particularly the moments of doubt and encouragement expressed on page eight, which is how I feel often when writing an essay.

    • tao

      hi vicky


  • aaron nicholas

    i…uh…skipped straight to page 7

  • jejune

    thanks for writing this, i appreciated it, especially the paragraph in which you explain why you were touched by the novel.

    i was surprised that the characters listened to luiz bonfa while having an orgy.

    • tao

      i like it, seems almost 'emotional,' luiz bonfa


  • buttercup mcgillicuddy

    found the nancy andrew translation online in .pdf format and plan to read [9] upon completing the novel

    also ['in-line', i think, with my interests] found this clip of the film version

    but could not find any torrents, dvds, streaming videos, etc. and feel desperate

    i enjoyed this analysis, tao, and feel inspired to write more fiction after reading it

    based on your receptiveness to this author, and based on previous japanese literature i've read, i perceive ryu murakami as [sort of] the 'most-underground' author who writes in a form and with similar intent/interests as oe and abe, which i feel excited to now be exposed to. thanks

    • tao

      hi buttercup


      enjoyed reading your comment

      i think ryu murakami is 'really famous' in japan (re 'most-underground')

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