It has appeared to me that there now exists a definite media pipeline that includes the writing of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Somewhere along the line of record collecting, being obsessed with A24 movies and collecting Criterions, one eventually reads “Norwegian Wood” and makes sure everyone within a five-mile radius knows about it. But maybe I’m just projecting. This sort of resurgence of Murakami’s work can be attributed at least in part to a couple of popular films based on his short stories—”Burning” and “Drive My Car.” Specifically, “Drive My Car’s” Oscar nominations and win led many to go back and read his collection of shorts, “Men Without Women.” At least it prompted me to. Regardless, his work seeing a recent rise in popularity led me to consider the different ways his work has adapted to film, specifically thinking of “Burning” and “Drive My Car.”
Originally, I decided to read the short story “Drive My Car” before watching its film, as the story runs shorter than 50 pages and the film clocks in at about three hours. When I first watched the film, I was a big fan but was intrigued as to why there were so many aspects that were extrapolated from the story. Not that I didn’t like it, but I was surprised that it didn’t just stick to the source material a little more strictly. It wasn’t until I read the other stories in the collection “Men Without Women” that I realized the film took inspiration from many of the stories, which gave me a newfound appreciation. Still, I think the one thing I preferred in the story was the emphasis on Kafuku playing a role in his own life, using his acting experience to pretend he wasn’t aware of Takatsuki’s affair with his wife. That being said, I really loved how the film was able to represent the idea of escaping yet expressing one’s emotions through acting and theater, deepening the importance of Kafuku’s involvement in Uncle Vanya. While I loved both the story and the movie, I would be thrilled to see some of the other stories from the collection adapted into their own films as well.
When it comes to “Burning,” there’s a lot less source material to draw from when adapting into a film—even compared to the 50-page “Drive My Car.” “Burning” is only about twelve pages, so you would assume that the film would need to draw plenty of inspiration from other sources. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t seem to depart from the short story too heavily, ensuring that every nook of the original story is explored in pretty intense detail. Steven Yeun is amazing and portrays the charming yet sinister role of Ben perfectly, while Ah-in Yoo brings a new depth to the originally not very explored Jong-su. While I felt similarly about the story and film version of “Drive My Car,” I certainly prefer “Burning”’s film adaptation; I feel as though the dozen-page story doesn’t do the brilliant idea enough justice and suspense.
Thinking about the excellent Murakami adaptations we’ve received thus far, I’m fascinated to see not only what comes next, but who will be the next to take on the endeavor. While Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Lee Chang-dong did incredible work with their adaptations, there are several other directors whose takes I would also be elated to watch. No matter who does it, I’ll be sure to rush to the theaters when the eventual “South of the Border, West of the Sun” adaptation arrives.