In Haruki Murakami’s short story “Super Frog Saves Tokyo” we meet Katagiri, a debt collector and seemingly boring person, who comes home one evening to a large talking frog sitting in his apartment. As they deliberate and Frog explains his plans to save Tokyo from the ever-absent Worm, we are taken through the repressed psyche of Katagiri, with his memories of the Great Kobe earthquake displaced with Kaiju-type fantasies. While illusions, Frog and Worm serve as a defense mechanism and cathartic, self-healing tool for Katagiri to deal with the post-traumatic stress/repressed memories in an attempt to not just discover the strength to endure but also save Tokyo.
Let’s look closer at Frog and Katagiri’s first interaction with Frog appearing in Katagiri’s apartment only a month after the Kobe earthquake, as these two events occurring so close the one another is no accident. As Frog explains to Katagiri that there will be a second quake directly below the Tokyo Security Trust Bank, Katagiri’s place of work, he continues to describe of what will occur if said quake isn’t prevented: “The number of dead from such a quake would probably exceed 150,000—mostly from accidents involving the commuter system: derailments, falling vehicles, crashes, the collapse of elevated expressways and rail lines, the crushing of subways, the explosion of tanker trucks” [p.4]. Such details echo that of the Kobe earthquake, details of which would’ve been fresh in Katagiri’s memory at this point in time, suggesting that Frog is Katagiri’s repressed consciousness who has manifested in order to dredge up his repressed memories in an attempt for him to deal with the pain of the earthquake and eventually heal. However, Katagiri’s repression does not stop with the Earthquake as there’s a second player in this Kaiju dance as well as a second set of memories Katagiri is forced to confront.
In describing Worm, Frog describes a creature who “just [lies] there and [feels] every little rumble and reverberation that comes his way, absorbing them into his body and storing them up. And then, through some kind of chemical process, he replaces most of them with rage [p.5].” Curiously this description also suit Katagiri and is book-ended by his mirroring similar behavior, existing in silence until Frog snaps him back into the present. Before Worm is mentioned Katagiri is described as “rooted in the doorway, unable to speak [p.1],” staring at Frog and letting Frog’s words wash over him. Katagiri isn’t able to speak for the first twenty or so lines, not until the word “urgent matter” is uttered by Frog is he able to articulate yet only repeats the word, “urgent matter [p.2],” which proposes a sense of numbness in that Katagiri, much like Worm, is unable to react or connect until something jerks him back into consciousness. Additionally Katagiri’s reaction to “urgent” (in that he actually reacted) also implies a sense of sensitivity to the language of catastrophe, which is to say the language used during events of mass destruction, since such a term as “urgent” would definitely be in repeated used during post-earthquake evacuation and news coverage.
Following Worm’s description, Frog admits his respect for Katagiri, saying that Katagiri’s superiors, colleagues and family don’t “properly appreciate [his] accomplishments” and, after recalling events and occasions in which these people have failed to show Katagiri appreciation, Frog “[falls] silent watching Katagiri and waiting until his words had sunk in [p.5].” Again we see Katagiri mirroring Worm, merely existing as he absorbs the rumblings of repressed emotions only to do or say nothing. Interestingly Frog seems conscious of these similarities between Katagiri and Worm as he also waits silently, watching Katagiri as his words “sink in.” These echoed reactions between Frog and Katagiri occur throughout the story; when Frog tells Katagiri that the matter of urgency involves an Earthquake, “Mouth dropping open, Katagiri looked at Frog. And Frog, saying nothing, looked at Katagiri. They went on staring at each other like this for some time [p.3].”; when Frog essentially paraphrases Katagiri’s emotions about fighting Worm from a paragraph earlier, “In all honesty, Mr. Katagiri, the thought of fighting Worm in the dark frightens me, too. [p.6]”; And, most hilariously, toward the end when Frog visits him in the hospital and states that he is “a thing that stands for a world of un-Frog,” and both him and Katagiri agree that they both don’t understand what that means [p.14]. These moments in which both Katagiri and Frog sync up together puts forth the idea that Frog, in addition to being a manifestation of repression, is also a coping mechanism through which Katagiri chooses to deal with said repression as Frog not only embodies Katagiri in the same ways Katagiri reflects Worm (i.e. long periods of time in order to absorb things) but Frog frames distressing circumstances in ways that Katagiri can process and come to terms with them. So it is no surprise that the moment of shared meditation upon the word “earthquake” between Frog and Katagiri is followed by the detailed description of the forthcoming earthquake. With such details Katagiri is surely to react and Frog appears to know this, so by conjuring up emotions that Katagiri would have otherwise locked away Frog can pull him out of his mental “sleep” and save him from becoming a literal worm (closed off and hard to reach). This would explain why Katagiri’s participation is so vital for Frog, why Frog would choose him and why Frog is so encouraging to Katagiri as this entire scenario is essentially Katagiri battling a potentially destructive side of himself, with Frog serving as mediator as well as instigator. Furthermore when Frog tells Katagiri, “I need you to stand behind me and say, ‘Way to go, Frog! You’re doing great! I know you can win! You’re fighting the good fight’ [p.7]!” he is telling Katagiri to root for/believe in himself, essentially being the catalyst for self-healing and to gain the courage to face what he suppresses.
Similarly, just as Frog can be seen as the semi-conscious extension of Katagiri, Worm can be viewed has Katagiri’s subconsciousness as his experience with Worm is indirect, existing only through the information Frog gives him. In what is to suppose to be the story’s climactic battle, Katagiri instead gets “shot” as he makes his way to the Trust Bank and then wakes up in the hospital. This is notable since it’s the only direct action Katagiri takes in the entire story in terms of both forwarding the plot as well as confronting Worm, responsibilities usually given to Frog. However, when Frog visits Katagiri in the hospital and tells him, “The whole terrible fight occurred in the area of imagination. That is the precise location of our battlefield [p.14],” he is saying, in so many words, that dreams are a way to tap into our subconscious fears and desires which is exactly what Frog has been trying to get Katagiri to face in the form of Worm. Parallel Frog’s absence with the moments leading up to the “shooting” during which Katagiri is on his way to help battle Worm, Katagiri had the chance to, as he puts it, “get scared at the last minute and run away [p.10]” and have Frog fight Worm alone, yet he chooses to go through with it and heads to the Trust Bank. In this moment Katagiri takes agency over his own repression and does battle with it in the form of passing out in the middle of the street.
When Katagiri awakens in the hospital and asks the nurse about his wound she “[flashes] a nervous smile in his direction” and says, “I’m sorry, Mr. Katagiri, but you haven’t been shot [p.12].” While this moment begs the question as to whether Katagiri was dreaming this entire time, let’s first consider how the shooting is described: “[Katagiri] felt no pain, but the blow sent him sprawling on the sidewalk. The leather briefcase in his right hand went flying in the other direction. The man aimed the gun at him again. A second shot rang out. A small eatery’s sidewalk signboard exploded before his eyes. He heard people screaming. His glasses had flown off, and everything was a blur [p.11].” The events described in this moment echo the first rumblings of an earthquake as well as the initial assumption someone like Katagiri would make to rationalize what was happening. Additionally, it is mentioned that Katagiri’s glasses had fallen off and that he may only think he saw a gun. This moment could be interpreted as Katagiri recalling his direct experience of the Kobe Earthquake through a dreamscape shooting serving as a buffer (as a singular tragedy can be easier to cope with than a national one) and shows Katagiri coming to terms with what happened. Shortly after Frog returns to thank Katagiri for his help in the battle against Worm, which seems to have taken place while he was asleep, signifying that said battle was a subconscious one. Katagiri, in fact, had to be in a dream-state in order to confront his subconscious, aka Worm, and prevent his repressed emotions and memories from overcoming him.
After the battle with Worm, Katagiri is visited in the hospital by the critically wounded Frog who “slips into a coma” and decomposes in front of Katagiri:
“...boils burst with a loud pop. The skin flew off, and a sticky liquid oozed out, sending a horrible smell across the room. The rest of the boils started popping, one after another, twenty or thirty in all, flinging skin and fluid onto the walls. The sickening, unbearable smell filled the hospital room. Big black holes were left on Frog’s body where the boils had burst, and wriggling, maggot-like worms of all shapes and sizes came crawling out [p.15].”
These bugs then begin to crawl onto Katagiri’s bed and inside his mouth, ears and anus before he is woken up by the nurse yet, even in the more awake state, Katagiri still feels their smiley sensation all over his body [p.16]. This physical reminder of his nightmare, as well as the grotesque nature of Frog’s demise, can be viewed as a positive step for Katagiri as it suggests a coming to terms with death (i.e. his own death as well as the death that has surrounded him from the quake) as well as a psychical internalization of Frog’s lessons as Katagiri literally becomes covered in Frog’s essence. Furthermore, the fact that Frog transforms from a friendly contemporary in a horrible pile of bugs could imply that Katagiri now mentally prepared to cope with the horrors of the natural world and no longer requires them to be sublimated into an intellectual Sesame Street character.
Which ever avenue Katagiri’s mental health takes, one question still remains: does Frog actually save Tokyo? One could argue that he in fact does, not in the literal sense that he fought Worm to the death thus preventing a second earthquake, but in that he helped Katagiri cope with a very traumatic experience in order for him to realize his good deeds and emphatic nature are required now in the face of tragedy more than ever. As Frog puts it, “What I want from you, Mr. Katagiri, is for you to share your simple courage with me, to support me with your whole heart as a true friend [p.7].”