Perhaps the most successful literary adaptation of last year was Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s “Drive My Car”—critically lauded, Best Screenplay at Cannes, one of only six films to win Best Picture from all three major U.S. critics groups.
But though the work feels faithful to Murakami’s distinctive style—Hamaguchi told The Wrap that upon viewing the film, Murakami said “he was not sure which portions he had written—which came from his original work and which hadn’t”—the film isn’t simply a paint-by-numbers adaptation of Murakami’s work; adapting one of Murakami’s short stories, in particular, took some reimagining.
In a video interview with Goldderby, when asked how he approached adapting “Drive My Car,” Hamaguchi responded:
When we talk about Haruki Murakami’s novels or short stories, they take place somewhere in the intermediary area between reality and fantasy; it’s somewhere in the middle, so in terms of the film, this calls not only for potential budgetary issues but in terms of depicting the story, it could actually potentially be very difficult. In the case of this project, my producer said to me, “Would you be interested in adapting a Haruki Murakami short story?” and my response was that if it’s ‘Drive My Car,’’ then maybe it would be possible for me to do it. The reason being that it involves the car, a moving vehicle, and having conversations in the car. This is something that lends itself to being cinematic, because it’s actually moving and then within the space you’re having this conversation, it’s a way to build up relationships between the characters, so this is something I felt like I could probably shoot. Of course it was also a challenge, but I felt like for me, my way in was via the car and the conversation between the characters . . .
In terms of Uncle Vanya [a major plotline in the adaptation; Kafuku, the protagonist, spends most of the movie a regional production], this is something that also featured in the original work . . . but in the original, there were really only a few lines, not even a full page, devoted to the Uncle Vanya section. So I was thinking about how I wanted to use it in relation to Kafuku . . . I felt that the lines of Vanya were the same as Kafuku’s lines . . . in terms of the character Vanya, he’s essentially lost the life that he once wanted. So in terms of his lines, when we hear him saying these lines, these fill in the gaps of the emotions that Kafuku is not expressing, it adds this explanation that we are not getting directly from Kafuku but actually directly relates to his life, and as a result we the audience are getting to feel the emotions that Kafuku has.
According to Hamaguchi (and to this viewer), this act of translating mediums paid off: Hamaguchi told Goldderby that he believes the positive reception to the film is due largely to its strong source material. “I think there’s a universality to his work,” said Hamaguchi. “Despair and other feelings of the characters . . . are actually transitioned by this small hope that takes place throughout the film. And I think this is something that’s very universal, and perhaps why it’s resonating throughout the world.”
Watch the full video interview here.