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

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A Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

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“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

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Anyone that has read a book or interview by Haruki Murakami knows how important music is to his voice and his writing. Kafka on the Shore is no different. Kafka on the Shore follows the lives of two people: Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. Kafka is running away from home to escape an Oedipal-esque prophecy that his father predicts of him. Mr. Nakata can talk to cats, so  he is hired to search for a missing cat named Goma and ends up on a crazy journey. Both characters embark on long journeys with little idea of where they are going; instead, a lot of things happen to both, as passive actors in their own lives.

At one of the most climactic scenes (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the book for you), Kafka Tamura is listening to the final movement of his favorite symphony, and Murakami makes sure to describe the music as well as the story. You can almost hear the frenzied rise of the instruments with Kafka! Music equally affects the other characters of the book – Kafka and his friend Oshima have long discussions about music and meaning, while Hoshino becomes transformed through music.

I think in order to fully appreciate the novel, you have to understand Murakami’s writing philosophy. In an interview with the Paris Review, he says:

“You’ve read Raymond Chandler, of course. His books don’t really offer conclusions. He might say, He is the killer, but it doesn’t matter to me who did it. There was a very interesting episode when Howard Hawks made a picture of The Big Sleep. Hawks couldn’t understand who killed the chauffeur, so he called Chandler and asked, and Chandler answered, I don’t care! Same for me. Conclusion means nothing at all.”

Like listening to music, reading Kafka on the Shore is about the journey; it is the only thing that matters, the destination is a necessary consequence of traveling. Once I was able to comprehend this, I was able to let go a little and fully inhabit the world that Murakami has created.

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Music is so prevalent here and acts as a guidepost through the book, telling you how far you’ve journeyed, so I created a playlist to listen to while reading Kafka on the Shore. Half of these songs were actually mentioned in the book, while the rest just seemed to fit the tone of the book. Please see the tracklist and link to the playlist below:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Major, Schubert
  2. Crossroads, Cream
  3. Little Red Corvette, Prince
  4. In a Sentimental Mood, Duke Ellington
  5. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay, Otis Redding
  6. As Time Goes By, Eddie Haywood
  7. Visions of Johanna, Bob Dylan
  8. Dunes, Alabama Shakes
  9. Kid A, Radiohead
  10. The Bitter End, Placebo

Click here to launch Kafka on the Shore: A Playlist