One morning the unnamed narrator of the story happens to see a girl approaching him whom he decides is the 100% perfect girl for him. He wants to talk to her but cant think of anything to say which will not sound ludicrous or banal and so he says nothing and they pass each other by. He looks behind after he passed her, and she had disappeared. He tells someone at work but the tone is offhand and casual. Conversation implies that narrator is alone, has no girlfriend and has had many infatuations with women in the past: his friend asks, "Your favourite type, then?" (line 20).
Narrator then goes back in time to tell a story which he decides is what he should have said to the girl. The story is about 2 teenagers who met 14 years ago and believed they were 100% perfect for each other. Murakami tells the story with great reverence for the wonderful thing that has happened to them: "Its a miracle, a cosmic miracle". He paints an idyllic picture of their relationship.
They agree on a test, that they will part, certain in the knowledge that because they are perfect for each other, they will inevitably meet again. However, both the boy and the girl catch influenza and have their memories erased.
But the effect of growing up means that at the end of the fourth section where they pass each other they do so without any recognition.
Characters - The narrator and girl
Narrator - We know hardly anything about him - his family, past, name, job, friends. Murakami tells us what we need to know: he is 32 and concious that he is getting older; lonely and desperate for female companionship that he fantasises about approaching young women in the street and engaging them in conversation. His lack of identity might be part of Murakami''s message: that the young man's plight is an inevitable part of modern urban life.
Girl - Know less about her than narrator. He guesses she is 30 but can remember no specific details of her appearance - even if she had a nose or not. He feels that, like him, she is lonely and looking for love - but this is merely his fantasy of her. Where he says he cant remember whether she had a nose, suggests that his loneliness is such that he desperately wants her to be the 100% perfect girl for him, but he is so lonely that any female contact will do.
Story is set in April 1981. Spring is traditionally a time associated with new life and re-birth, growth and renewal - and a time of year associated associated particularly with people falling in love. Story is set in Harajuku district - a very fashionable and stylish area. It is exactly the type of area where two young people might hope to meet, but the bustling and lively streets are a marked contrast to the narator's morose solitude.
Worth remembering that Tokyo is a city of 8 million people: this puts the narrator's encounter with the girl and his hope to meet her again in sharp focus. The chances of his meeting the 100% perfect girl again are almost impossible.
Language and Structure
Murakami plays around with tenses in the course of telling the story: Lines 1-16, addresses reader in present tense.
Lines 17-26, switches to past tense as he relates to his male friend the story of what happens with the girl - although nothing really happened.
Lines 27-58, describes encounter with girl in detail & using present tense.
Lines 59-115, tells the story he wishes happened, complete with what he really said to the girl. Recounted in past tense.
Lines 116-117 - addresses reader affectionately and ruefully, but with a sense of closure since he has, in the 4th section, satisfactorily concluded the story - although, of course the ending does not change: even in this version the 2 young people ignore each other and pass each other without speaking.
Language and Structure (2)
In all but the 4th section, the language and tone Murakami uses is light and colloquial. The language he uses outside the 4th section is conventional, unoriginal and banal. However the 4th section stands out because it is in the past tense and is about the distant past as Murakami imagines what he should have said to her. The story he would have told her begins like a fairytale.
The characters in the fantasy story have no names, because they do not need them: in this fantasy story they are generic characters and could be any young couple. What they say is highly stylized with frequent repetition - especially of the phrase '100% perfect'. Unlike the real story that this story is embedded in, we are not told exactly where they are - which adds to the fantasy-like and slightly unreal nature of the encounter.
Girl is carrying letter which may be meant to indicate that she has someone to write to at least, the male narrator seems to have no one. If she does have someone to write to, it may be a boyfriend or lover - a fact which the narrator, in his rather self-centered fantasy, has not taken into consideration at all.
Themes - Loneliness
Narrator describes himself as lonely; indeed, the very fact that he can spend so long thinking about a chance encounter in the street with an unknown girl shows how lonely he is. He describes the girl as lonely too, but that may be part of his fantasy, his delusion. He has to believe she is lonely in order for her to fit into his fantasy about her. For all he knows she might be in a happy and fulfilling relationship. Perhaps Murakami is inviting us to laugh slightly at the male delusion of the lonely female who will be instantly won over by his impressive story and his impassioned words. Certainly the narrator can imagine no response on the girl's part except for happy acquiescense.
Themes - Love, Fantasy & Reality
Notion that there is another human being out there who is just right for you now is rather quaint and old-fashioned. Many people now have several relationships or even marriages. The idea of the 100% perfect girl can be seen as a type of male fantasy especially as the narrator decides she is the 100% perfect girl for him without any communication at all with her and without being able to recall a single detail of her appearance. He is obviously very lonely and craves female companionship. Murakami intends this phrase "100% perfect girl" to sound slightly unrealistic and therefore amusing in its naivety. Shows how narrator in his lonely, loveless state, retains a fantasy element about women and love.
Themes - Parallel Worlds and City Life
Parallel worlds - Murakami plays with the idea that the young man and woman might have had a parallel life, a different existence, happy and together, if only events and circumstances had turned out differently. Raises the tantalizing possibility for the reader of all the ways our lives might have worked differently if we had met different people at different times in our lives. Helps us to creaate a sad and wistful tone to the story as it makes us think of lost opportunities and all the different ways our lives might have turned out.
City life - Setting is important. Cities are unusual groups of people, contain millions of people who have no connection with each other at all. Often observed it is easier to feel lonely in city because you are surrounded by people - none of whom you know ad with whom it is impossible to make a connection, beyond your small circle of work colleages or friends. In the course of a lifetime he will pass multitudes of people who are simply strangers and he will never exchange a single word with them. We might see the story as critical of this alienation from our fellow human beings that city life induces.
Themes - A Lament for Lost Innocence
Can detect in Murakami's words a wistful nostalgia for the past: in the fantasy section of the past, when the couple meet as teenagers, we are told what has happened to them is a 'miracle', but Murakami paints the effects of time in a negative, destructive light. The passage of time destroys the innocence that the young lovers once felt. It is not simply the influenza that causes them to lose their memories, Murakami makes it clear that the process of growing older and conforming to society's expectations of how we should behave also plays its part: what Murakami describes as acquiring the 'knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as fully-fledged members of society' also, he suggests, involves losing the innocence and faith of youth.
Lines 99-104 show that they have lost the ability to love 100%. This is what we can happen as we grow older: we fit into the empty rituals of society, but lose our capacity to commit 100% and to believe in miracles.
Ending of story
Narrator ends story on what might be seen as a triumphant note: "Yes, thats it. That is what I should have said to her" (line 117). But he would never really say that to her. In that sense the story ends on a slightly melancholy note, despite the narrators optimistic tone - a note of innocence lost and happiness that will never be attained.