Short Story: Super-Frog Saves Tokyo

Author: Haruki Murakami, 1999
Genre: Magical Realism
Format: Paperback, 23 pages

I read this story for the first time back in 2009. Since then I have re-read it several times, and even after familiarizing myself with other works by Murakami, I still love this little gem the most. The story is about a lonely bank employee Katagiri, who one day comes home to find a giant frog waiting for him. Frog tells Katagiri that the latter has been chosen to accompany him in a fight with a giant worm that lives under Tokyo and threatens to cause an monstrous earthquake. The two must save the city from destruction and 150,000 people from being killed.

The last time I decided to turn to Super-Frog was on March 10th, the day before the devastating 8.9 earthquake hit Japan. After learning the news about the disaster, my mind immediately tracked back to the short story. Suddenly fiction struck a much more emotional chord. Suddenly the events described in the book became more real. Frog existed, and tragically he lost. Overall I think I can understand why I had such a strong reaction to the events. Last summer I went to Japan for work, and I got to know many wonderful people in Sapporo, Sendai, and Tokyo. Fortunately they are all fine, but before I knew the details, I spent several days worrying about their well-being.

Now, I should probably tell you more about the story, instead of boring you with my own emotional troubles. I find that stylistically magical realism works very well in this work. The main topic here is not a hero’s journey, but a struggle within yourself to find the person you want to be and make it a reality. Take the protagonist, for example. He is very ordinary and his job does not make him any more special. He doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and even though he has supported his siblings through most of their upbringing, nobody really gives a damn about his existence. When Frog appears before him and grants him a heroic quest, Katagiri feels torn between his familiar and safe reality and a journey that would give meaning to his life. Still, he doesn’t believe his senses, thinking that Frog is just a hallucination. He tries to convince himself that things like that cannot possibly happen to a person like him:

I’m an absolutely ordinary guy. Less than ordinary. I’m going bald, I’m getting a potbelly, I turned forty last month. My feet are flat. The doctor told me recently that I have diabetic tendencies. It’s been three months or more since I last slept with a woman – and I had to pay for it. I do get some recognition within the division for my ability to collect on loans, but no real respect. I don’t have a single person who likes me, either at work or in my private life. I don’t know how to talk to people, and I’m bad with strangers, so I never make friends. I have no athletic ability, I’m tone-deaf, short, phimotic, nearsighted – and astigmatic. I live a horrible life. All I do is eat, sleep, and shit. I don’t know why I’m even living. Why should a person like me have to be the one to save Tokyo?

So does Katagiri imagine the Frog, or not? I remember reading Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion when I was fifteen and the only phrase from the book that jabbed into my memory related that every scarred and crippled person thinks that he is destined for something greater. Is this cruel reality true for Katagiri? Is he just imagining Frog to justify his life? Lat us assume that he does indeed create Frog for this very purpose. Then we have to ask ourselves what does this imagination represent?

In the end of the story Frog tries to express his own nature to Katagiri: “I am indeed, pure Frog, but at the same time I am a thing that stands for a world of un-Frog.” (p.111) Here, he is most likely trying to explain that he might be perceived as a real physical being, but he could also be something that is opposite of real – magic. And I’m not talking about the hocus-pocus kind of magic, but something that people believe in when the situation becomes impossible; some people call it a “miracle”.  Frog also says: “What you see with your eyes is not necessarily real. My enemy is, among other things, the me inside me. Inside me is the un-me.” (p.112) Just like inside Frog, Katagiri also is battling to find the inner Katagiri, who is so different from his real counterpart. Katagiri has the potential to become the un-Katagiri,  but he must give in into the idea of magic and accept that Frog is real. The notion of imagination plays a big part in the story. Frog tells us that the battle with the Worm happened in the “area of imagination” (p.110) He also has said that “true terror is the kind that men feel toward their imagination” (p.106). Katagiri has to fight the Worm within himself, no matter how terrifying it might seem. If he come out of it victorious, he will become the man he always wanted to be. And as we see Katagiri in the end, it looks like the battle does change him. Perhaps he finally believes in Frog.

Rating: 5/5 – I re-read this one religiously
Source: published in After the Quake [ISBN-13:978-0375713279] by Vintage

Image Credit: Super-Frog Saves Tokyo poster is a work of Edward Kwong for Pi Theatre.

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