Although Haruki Murakami is arguably the most well-known Japanese author around the world, many of his fans are not aware of the fact that a few adaptations of his work exist. Despite the fact that Murakami’s works would make for incredibly interesting films due to his tell-tale style that incorporates fantasy and magical realism while touching on themes of family, love, and identity, only seven film adaptations exist.
Some of you may be surprised to know that there are that many, in total, but Murakami has 14 novels, 54 short stories, and a number of essays and other works as well, which makes the number of adaptations very small, indeed.
While the number of adaptations out there is relatively small, here’s a closer look the adaptations that do exist.
1. Hear the Wind Sing
Hear the Wind Sing was Haruki Murakami’s first novel. Published in Japan in 1979, this novel is not well known internationally as translations were extremely limited in copy until recent years. As Murakami himself considered Hear the Wind Sing and its follow-up, Pinball, 1973, to be works from his immature period as a writer, the novel had a very short translation period that existed inside of Japan only. In recent years, however, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were translated into English and released together as Wind/Pinball in 2015.
Just as Hear the Wind Sing was Murakami’s first novel, it was also his first work to be adapted into a film. Adapted by Kazuki Omori in 1981, the film (which is quite hard to find) runs at 1 hour and 40 minutes long.
Hear the Wind Sing is the first book in Murakami’s Trilogy of the Rat (Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, A Wild Sheep Chase). Despite being a trilogy all three novels can be read independently. All of them follow an unnamed narrator (“I”) and his friend (“The Rat”) as they partake in rather surreal adventures. In Hear the Wind Sing, the narrator retells the events of the summer of 1970, a period in which he spends a lot of time at bars as a college student. During this time, he encounters a few strange characters who change the way that he thinks about the world.
2. Attack on the Bakery
“Attack on the Bakery” follows two friends that contemplate crime out of hunger. As they have no means of obtaining food, they decide to attack a bakery with kitchen knives in the hope of satisfying their hunger.
At first glance, it might be easy to confuse this adaptation with Murakami’s short story “The Second Bakery Attack,” which appears in the translated collection, The Elephant Vanishes. While the short story is somewhat similar as it involves a crime in which a couple contemplates robbing a McDonalds, the two stories have their differences. Although many sources suggest that the short film is an adaptation of “The Second Bakery Attack”, it is impossible, as the short story was released in 1985, while the film was released in 1982.
Directed by Naoto Yamakawa, Attack on the Bakery runs a little under 17 minutes long and captures the hard to find short story perfectly, although a few creative changes were made.
3. A Girl, She is 100%
“On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning” is one of Haruki Murakami’s early short stories. Published in 1981, and later in the short story collection, The Elephant Vanishes, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl” touches on Murakami’s themes of love and loss and is very much reminiscent of his later novel, 1Q84.
The short story was Murakami’s first written work to talk about love and the nature of relationships. The people we love never really leave us (a topic that was explored thoroughly in his recently translated collection, Men Without Women). In the short story, the narrator talks about his thought process after seeing a woman that, in the typical Murakami fashion, is “not that good-looking”, but happens to be the perfect girl for him, even though he has never met her.
Despite its length, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl” was adapted into a short film by Naoto Yamakawa in 1983 and titled A Girl, She is 100%. The adaptation, which is just under 11 minutes long, captures the sense of loneliness that comes with true love.
4. Tony Takitani
“Tony Takitani,” a short story published in Japan in 1990, and later in The New Yorker in 2002 (as well as the short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman in 2006), received the film treatment much later on. Describing the life of a man that has been an outsider for his entire life due to his Americanized name, “Tony Takitani” covers the topic of identity through excruciating loneliness. Despite being alone for most of his life, the narrator, Tony Takitani, makes a name for himself and falls head over heels in love. His lover, and later, wife, develops an obsession with clothing and materialism that puts a strain on their relationship in this captivating, yet incredibly heart-breaking short story of love and loss.
Directed by Jun Ichikawa, Tony Takitani runs at 75 minutes long. Much like the other adaptations listed so far, Tony Takitani captures Murakami’s essence perfectly and is a must-see for any fan of his work.
5. All God’s Children Can Dance
“All God’s Children Can Dance” was published in Japan in 1999 and was translated in the short story collection after the quake in 2002. Although the short story falls in line with some of Murakami’s other works, where forbidden sexual encounters are concerned as it includes an interesting mother-son relationship, “All God’s Children Can Dance” touches on themes of identity as well as religion, wherein the main character, Yoshiya, questions his religious upbringing that is reminiscent, once more, of 1Q84.
Adapted for the big screen by Robert Logevall in 2008, All God’s Children Can Dance runs at 1 hour and 25 minutes and has been considered to be disappointing, to say the least when compared to the original short story. Although the idea behind the story remains the same, the location, characters and casting choices are very different.
6. The Second Bakery Attack
Actually based on the short story, “The Second Bakery Attack”, in which a young newlywed couple breaks into a McDonald’s out of unbearable hunger in the middle of the night, an event that occurs as the result of the husband’s experience of robbing a bakery in his youth, The Second Bakery Attack is another Western attempt at a Murakami adaptation. Directed by Carlos Cuaron, the 2010 short film runs at a little under 10 minutes long and takes a number liberties with Murakami’s original work.
7. Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood is one of Murakami’s most well-known novels. An incredibly touching coming-of-age story, the novel, which was published in Japan in 1987, follows a man named Toru on his romantic and painful journey through college.
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.
Directed by Tran Anh Hung, the 2010 film adaptation runs at 2 hours and 13 minutes long. Given the length and popularity of Norwegian Wood, it makes sense that the film is the longest and most well-known Murakami adaptation. Director Tran Anh Hung went to great pains to ensure that the adaptation was as faithful to the original as possible; in fact, Murakami requested to see the script before it was developed, according to The Guardian.
A few smaller productions of Murakami’s work have been done as well, including a few stage performances by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, based on short stories such as “Honey Pie” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo,” both of which appeared in after the quake.
Recently, it was announced that Lee Chang-dong would direct a short film based on Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning”. The story, which was published in Japan in 1983 and appeared in The New Yorker, touches on relationships and bizarre circumstances when a man reveals that he regularly burns down barns, as they are expendable. Although production for the adaptation began earlier this year, there has been no recent news on the subject.
Needless to say, all adaptations are different. While they may not be entirely true to the original work, all of these works are important in their own right and will prove to be entertaining for fans of Haruki Murakami.