April 1, 2011
The adaptation of any novel to film will always be fraught with the perils of weighty expectation. Haruki Murakami ‘s 1987 novel Norwegian Wood is no exception. Translated to English 13 years after its Japanese publication, it has reaped perhaps more feverish expectation in the lead to its recent cinematic release than many of its literary contemporaries of the last ten years. By this I discount the cash-cow behemoths of Harry Potter and Twilight; which to me are a new breed of genre unto themselves: the teen-aimed novel series adapted to ’dolla sign’ franchise variety . That’s not to slander this type of movie as void of merit ; production accolades are unavoidable, they have their target audience and generally the hopes and expectations of that audience are met, but there’s a big difference between this kind of project and the cinema-as-art adaptations of say, in recent years, Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. Read the rest of this entry »
When I first spied Tony Takitani on a record store shelf it was the words emblazoned upon the cover “from the story by HARUKI MURAKAMI” which caught my attention. In 2000, my fascination with Japan and its culture in mind (I had been set to go to Yokohama during those summer months; fate as it transpired took me on a different road) my parents gave me Norwegian Wood, written by the then lesser- known Japanese author. Little did they know the literary revolution they were bringing into my life. It was like nothing I’d read before, and only an encounter with Beckett’s Endgame a short period after came close to resembling the strange, paradoxical feeling upon completion of utter disorientation coupled with beautiful, poetic fulfilment. I began to see the ‘Murakami’ in things: a sort of ‘back-to- front’ process when what I was discovering in actuality, were the writer’s influences. (I recall a similar sort of experience when, viewing Voyage dans la Lune in French class I could think only of the Smashing Pumpkins, as if indignant that Meliès preceded the age of MTV) In any case, it’s easy to see the ‘Murakami’, or more accurately find the contributing influences to Murakami’s writing in many 20th century philosophical, literary and artistic movements. From Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett style hard- boiled fiction and Film Noir, to the Beat Generation, Existentialism, Surrealism and Western pop culture. However, despite this broad mélange of inspiration, at the heart of Murakami’s work is something inimitably Japanese. You can’t quite put your finger on it- it’s that ‘je ne sais quoi’ aspect of his story-telling which invokes a sense of ‘nonchalance’ – but this suggests a lack of concern, or laziness…and that’s not it, for Murakami’s is a deft art. Words don’t rush from the page to reach you in a whir of statement and drama in a Murakami novel. Instead they seem to share the same space like there was never a place more natural for them to be. Banal activities like cooking pasta acquire meditative purpose and like a Zen kōan his work begs for the suspension of conceptual thought in order for its truth to ‘flow’. Allow this to happen, and the return is something profound. Read the rest of this entry »
April 23, 2009
The credit crunch is biting down hard and as I fill out yet another job application to send out into the ether, I’m feeling decidedly stuck in a proverbial rut. It’s easy to become complacent, disgruntled, imagining days gone by and those stretching out as relentlessly similar, a blur of my own tedious thoughts and prosaic goings on. Yet it’s Spring, and as clichéd as it all sounds, it remains the ultimate symbol of new life after all those months of winter darkness. It gets harder to be complacent and to hibernate because Spring is a reminder that life will keep moving on-and it won’t stop to check if you’re keeping up.
So is the case in Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms, or Kirschblüten – Hanami in German and Japanese respectively. As is explained in the film, Spring cherry blossoms are to the Japanese the most beautiful symbol of impermanence. For one or two months only they flower in resplendent abundance then fall like flurries of delicate pink snow, attracting hoards of admirers who gather underneath to share picnics and general merriment, or to take photographs, paint or write poetry, inspired by this natural muse. Dörrie uses principally this notion of impermanence along with the basic plot blueprint of Ozu’s Tokyo Story to conduct the narrative of her film finding Trudi and Rudi (yes really), a married couple deciding to visit their grown-up children following the discovery that Rudi’s health is seriously deteriorating. Read the rest of this entry »