Adaptation: Kafka on the Shore

The Ninagawa Company recently came to Lincoln Center to perform their adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. As soon as I saw posters start to go up, I was intrigued and knew I had to see it. How could you possibly turn such a dense and surreal book into a three hour play? The answer is – interpret, edit, adapt.

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Kafka + Crow

Even the description of the play on the official website suggests it will have a much more straightforward plot than the book.

In a tale of two parallel journeys, 15-year-old Kafka and an imaginary friend run away from home in search of his estranged mother and sister and to escape an Oedipal curse. His journey runs side by side that of a fellow searcher—an old man with uncanny abilities seeking a magical stone he believes will offer divine guidance. As their odysseys entwine in modern-day Japan, reality, dream, and myth converge in an allegorical tale that resonates viscerally but resists logical explanation.

There may have been something lost in translation, however, because the play doesn’t even mention an Oedipal curse. Also, I would never have called Crow an “imaginary friend” – would you have? The play was entirely in Japanese, and we had to read subtitles off a banner on top of the stage. I’ve done this before for operas, but never for a play. After the first five minutes of adjusting, I hardly noticed and felt entirely absorbed in the play.

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Johnnie Walker in his basement

The set design and music choices for the play were phenomenal, and I feel like Murakami would be pleased. Sigur Ros played in between scenes and softly in the background of monologues. It helped create an otherworldly atmosphere. I will say that they set Ms. Saeki’s song, “Kafka on the Shore” to music, and it didn’t sound at all like I had imagined. The scenery was all neatly packaged into glass boxes on wheels that were pushed around the stage into different arrangements – parks, libraries, homes, forests. The picture below shows what I’m talking about:

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I read somewhere before that Murakami tries to make his readers laugh every ten pages. I’ve never thought of Kafka on the Shore as a particularly hilarious book, but the play was definitely very funny. The audience was bent over in laughter throughout the first half of the play. The actor portraying Johnnie Walker had such a high energy, and the scene where Mr. Nakata tries to turn himself at the police station was a crowd favorite. Who doesn’t love a bumbling police officer?
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Mr. Nakata searches for a missing cat

I was happy to see a lot of my favorite lines of dialogue in the play, but cut a lot of my favorite moments out, like when Hoshino learns to love music, Kafka’s time in Oshima’s cabin, and Oshima’s brother. The play also suggested a much more direct plotline and relationship between all of the characters. It was definitely a well thought-out and intelligent adaptation. When I was walking out of the theater, however, I heard a few people say that they had never read the book and found the play very confusing. I think it’s a tough book to try to adapt – if you’ve read the book, you would find the play a little too simplistic, but if you’ve never read the book, you’d be lost the entire time. I’m very lucky I got to go see this play, and I hope to see more adaptations of Murakami’s work soon! I saw Norwegian Wood in theaters a few years ago, and while it wasn’t anywhere as good as the book, it is still very dear to me. Have you seen any Murakami adaptations? What did you think?

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Additional Reading:

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6 thoughts on “Adaptation: Kafka on the Shore

  1. Pingback: Adaptation: Room | Like Bears to Honey

  2. Pingback: Adaptation: The Crucible | Like Bears to Honey

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