Murakami will be laughing all the way to the bank

Japanese author’s latest novel has been branded as ‘indecent’ by Hong Kong’s Obscene Articles Tribunal, but this will just help ensure he sells more copies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 11:19pm

Nothing promotes a literary work like censorship. That’s why any self-respecting writer should consider such prohibition a badge of honour. At least that’s the case in a free society like Hong Kong. And we can all have a good laugh during dinner parties.

But, what of the outrage? Well, it’s mostly overly sensitive souls who take their cultural superiority too seriously.

Having avoided controversies for quite a while, the Obscene Articles Tribunal decided to make news again by classifying a new novel, Killing Commendatore, by famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, as “indecent”. That meant its removal from the annual Hong Kong Book Fair and an order to all public libraries to keep it away from people younger than 18.

Apparently there are some steamy sex scenes in the novel, which makes me want to read it. I assume that’s the reaction of a few other people. An “indecent” classification is free advertising; Murakami must be pleased.

How Killing Commendatore got its ‘indecent’ rating in Hong Kong

I have not read his novels, though I did admire Underground. The book is a series of interviews with perpetrators and victims of the 1996 Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult. Its leader, Shoko Asahara, was executed this month. The book is a consummate work of journalism. Murakami let his interviewees edit their transcripts before publication as an ethical stance against media sensationalism. Hacks would never do that, otherwise, how could we misquote people for stories?

Many earnest people have jumped to Murakami’s defence, with more than 2,100 having signed a petition against the tribunal. He hardly needs it.

The online statement said: “This would definitely bring shame to Hongkongers. Members from the cultural and publishing sectors would find it difficult to set foot in the international arena.”

Ben Lam Siu-pan, one of 505 adjudicators for the tribunal, described the classification as making us “an international laughing stock”. Shame and laughing stock? More like amusement and roll of the eyes.

When looking for similarly moronic decisions, you would have to go back to 1995, when the tribunal outdid itself by branding “indecent” a picture of Michelangelo’s David in an ad, a photo of a young burnt victim’s face, and a bronze statue called New Man by the late Dame Elizabeth Frink with its manhood exposed.

That’s 23 years ago. The tribunal hasn’t been as bad as its critics have charged. Let’s just hope there won’t be a repeat soon.