New theatre 新剧
Dreams within dreams 梦中梦
A haunting vision of Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”
Aug 27th 2011 | EDINBURGH | from the print edition
ADAPTING a novel for the stage requires courage, vision and a spirit that refuses to kowtow to the original author. But few novels can have been as hard to rework as “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, Haruki Murakami’s surreal and unwieldy 600-page exploration of fear. Stephen Earnhart’s adaptation (written with Greg Pierce), seven years in the making, had its world premiere at the Edinburgh festival on August 21st. Like a dream, it is wondrous, incomprehensible and poignantly memorable in all sorts of unexpected ways.
First published in English in 1997, this Japanese novel was immediately hailed as a masterpiece, despite its fierce resistance to explanation. Mr Earnhart, a former producer for Miramax Films, has applied some cinematic flourishes to this production, which often recalls the bizarre cinema of David Lynch. The novel’s hallucinatory world is evoked through film projections, puppets and music. The mood is haunting and confusing, and peppered with bewitching details, like a white bird that suddenly flutters from bedsheets and flies away.
In a suburban Japanese flat an out-of-work loser, Toru Okada (James Yaegashi), is folding laundry while he contemplates the disappearance of first his cat and then his wife, who hasn’t been home for days. The doorbell rings. Visions of bubbling water and mist on stage signal the start of Okada’s voyage of discovery. Various seemingly disconnected strangers come to visit, each one teaching Okada something new about himself. One leads him into the inky darkness of a well, where many of the novel’s more philosophical soliloquies are set. “Sometimes the best way to think about reality is to get as far away from it as possible,” he says.
Nothing is straightforward. As Okada, Mr Yaegashi is both fearful and open. His wife, Kumiko (Ai Kiyono), may have run off or she may have been kidnapped. Her beastly brother, performed by James Saito, epitomises Japan’s right-wing romantics, who long for the days when warfare, chivalry and honour were prized above all else. An old soldier from Hiroshima visits Okada to tell him a terrifying story of a man who was skinned alive by enemy forces before the second world war. “Telling you my memories has given me so much relief,” he says as he bids adieu.
If Mr Murakami’s book was hard to follow, Mr Earnhart’s version does little to clarify. Better to give yourself up to the theatrical experience of Okada’s passage into the unknown. In a land of dreams, it is never the destination but the journey that counts most of all.