Tag Archives: Haruki Murakami

Drive my Car Review

How the film diverges from the book, whilst keeping some things the same.

Published as part of a short story collection, Drive My Car is one of Murakami’s finest short stories. But it’s not particularly dramatic, strange, or interesting. Nothing would suggest that it would make a particularly cinematic film. But here we are, with  the most critically acclaimed  Imternational film of the year, and now the winner of Best Foreign Film.

The short story

Taking the title of the short story form a Beatles story, the main character is another Murakami proxy. He’s introduced as a widower, and his wife is mentioned as being someone he was in love with but perhaps thtere were things about him that he never understood. Then there is an actor who had an affair with the wife right up until she died. Finally, the third main character is the driver. These characters appear in the same form in the film, more or less. But the film adds several characters who don’t exist in the book. Instead of the book’s limited dramatis personae environment, the film goes for a more expanisive cast that is closer to the previous works of the firector rather than the Murakami story.

The wife is wonderfully played in the film; a mixture of eroticism, sadness and strength by Reika Kirishima. We see that she loves her husband very much. And we know this before the scene where the main character accidentally finds her making love with another man. Yet the film  makes this revelation somehow boring and not as surprising as it should have been; leaving us to wonder if the man had always believed that his partner was unfaithful.

Both book and film make it clear that the main character was waiting for his wife to explain her infidelity, but she dies the same evening. I thought that the film hinted that her death was a suicide, but  later we’re told that she had a cerebral heamorrhage. This could have been caused by a blunt object to the head – yet the film never looks at the possibility of her being murdered, or that it could have been a suicide. The absence of the wife is a massive part of the book. Yet the character in the film shows less regret than we would believe possible for one who has lost their partner of twenty years.

The book largely uses conversations between the driver and director to reveal what happened when he struck up a  friendship with the actor his wife had an affair with. These are some of the best parts of the story – tense, exciting, and we don’t know where the story will turn next. Yet these conversations aren’t even used in the film. It’s an example of why Murakami has always presented such a challenge to directors adapting his works for the screen. The character’s internal monologues in the first person are what gives the writing its power – but this is difficult to translate to a visual medium.

The actor is presented as a rather timid man who is attractive to the women without having any strong characteristics. He’s more of a threat in the book and his outbreaks of violence are easier to accept, especially as they are grounded in alcoholism.

I can’t say that this film has done a bad job of adapting the story. In some ways it’s very original – it borrows some details from other stories in the same collection and it works. A lot of the stories that the wife tells him come from Scheherazade in the same collection – and Hamaguchi manages to interpolate these within the story of Drive my Car without losing the cohesion of the narrative.

Yet it doesn’t have the mysterious Murakami quality you get from reading the book. What the film does have that the book doesn’t – is a powerful scene where the actor/director is comforted by a Korean-signing actress who tells him to carry on living, it could and should have been the ending. Yet the film ends with the driver now living on Korea but driving Yusuke’s red Saab. It’s an oddly flat ending that really lacks an emotional catharsis that the film had led us to expect. The film has found favour with critics who found something more in the film than I did. It’s said to show another side of Japan, and is even being touted as a tourist advertisement. Yet the film shows very few famous landmarks that we would expect to see. Perhaps this is inevitable from a film that wants to focus on the banal reality at the expanse of any wonder. Yet it’s an oddly cold, uninvolving film, and it’s not been a success in Japan, with people largely ignoring it for bigger homegrown films such as Demonslayer.

Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami: Men Without Women

Another Murakami book has been published, with this one being  his fourth collection of short stories.

I had a rush of excitement when I opened the cover and started reading the first story. Murakami creates a world of mystery in the most ordinary of settings. He can write the most ordinary of sentences, and then switch things up a gear with just a few words.

For example: “At any rate, his lucky life continued for some thirty years, a long time, when you think about it. But one day, he fell in love.”

Now, that’s a great sentence isn’t it? And it’s the same throughout the book, with these knockout lines coming out of nowhere.

Although we’ve become familiar with his world of Tokyo night owls, jazz and strange phone calls, its as though Murakami has deliberately removed any traces of the quirkiness of his famous novels.

The women seem to have come out of forties noir films and the male characters are tougher than usual. Murakami has always had an affinity with American authors and the book’s title recalls the same name of a collection of stories written by Hemingway.

What we get here are seven stories which test the short story format to its limit but nearly always succeed. Four of the stories, which appeared in the New Yorker are included, the knock-out here being Kino. The prose is as crisp as ever. Sample sentence: ‘There was a girl Kitaru had known since they were in elementary school together.’  This being Murakami, its going to be the kind of sentence that alerts us that things are going to become interesting. In Yesterday, the Murakami-like character remembers a friend who deliberately apes the working class Kansai dialect. He also sings Beatles songs. Things become highly intriguing when Kitamuru suggests to Tanimura that he start dating his girlfriend since he is too busy with his exams to be able to concentrate on dating her.

Here’s another one from Kino:

‘Kino remembered the first time the man had come to the bar.’

Kino starts with the most basic of ideas, of a man being left by his wife, and takes us on the most extraordinary journey. Many of his stories have a film-like quality (although directors have struggled to get his work to translate on screen. But Kino (which is German for cinema) would probably make for a great thriller. There’s a jazz bar, which only has two customers, and a sexy woman covered in cigarette burns whom Kino sleeps with. Then the story gets darker:

‘Fall came, and the cat disappeared. Then the snakes started to show up.’

The story is laced with a ready- made soundtrack of jazz records, where the  music is described to enable us to almost hear it being played: ‘Kino sat on a stool and listened to the Coleman Hawkins LP with the title track “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He found the bass solo amazing.”

Those of us who have read Murakami’s work will also find his solos amazing. Although I only wish that the last story Men without Women could have been stronger. Not only stronger, but with more direction. It’s about a man who remembers a relationship he had with a woman who has just killed herself. Only the way Murakami describes it is not as interesting as any of the other stories. I got the feeling that even Murakami wasn’t sure where he was going with that one.

But what a collection otherwise. I felt as though some of these experiences had happened to me, and maybe there are universal truths here that everyone can relate to. A short story can feel like the writer didn’t have enough ideas for a book but only a few scraps of story ideas. But there’s more than enough here. And like a lost lover, we remember the stories long after the affair is over.

murakami
Murakami’s novels are usually about lonely characters