11 September 2015

'Kafka on the Shore' (Lincoln Center Festival 2015)

Let’s see.  Characters include Colonel Sanders, Johnnie Walker, and some talking felines.  Are you sure this is a Japanese play?  Well, it is and it was my second and final show in this year’s Lincoln Center Festival: Kafka on the Shore, adapted by Frank Galati from the 2002 novel by Haruki Murakami.  (My previous visit to LCF was for Cheek by Jowl’s Ubu Roi; see the report on ROT on 27 August, which includes a brief background on the Festival.)  Directed by Yukio Ninagawa and performed in Japanese with English supertitles, the LCF performance was at the David H. Koch (formerly the New York State) Theater at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  The play ran from 23 to 26 July and Diana, my usual theater companion, and I attended the 7:30 performance on the evening of Saturday, 25 July.  A production of Tokyo’s Ninagawa Company, Kafka is co-produced by the Saitama Arts Foundation, Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, and HoriPro, Inc.

Novelist Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s most esteemed, was born in Kyoto in 1949.  Now 66, he made his début as a novelist in 1979 with Hear the Wind Sing (published in English in 1987). Following the success of this novel he published a string of works, culminating with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, published in Japan in 2014 and in English this year.  Marukami, whose work has been translated into as many as 50 languages (and has sold in the millions of copies outside Japan), also writes short stories, essays, children’s books, nonfiction, and translations of English-language books into Japanese.  Kafka on the Shore, published in 2002 in Japan and 2005 in the U.S., attracted readers around the world.  It was chosen as one of the 10 Best Books by the New York Times in 2005 and the writer has been recognized with many international prizes and honors.  A number of his books have been adapted for the stage, playing both in Japan and in the West.

As a youth, Marukami immersed himself in American culture, reading crime novels and listening to rock and roll.  His parents were both teachers of Japanese literature, but he grew up reading Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Brautigan and Jack Kerouac.  He eventually became a huge fan of jazz and he and his wife later opened a jazz bar in Tokyo.  It was a popular and successful venture, but in 1978, while he was watching a baseball game, he was taken with the idea of writing a novel.  Needless to say, his interest in American culture led him to be influenced by U.S. writers like Raymond Chandler, Vonnegut, and Brautigan.  The Japanese literary establishment continues to criticize Murakami for being “un-Japanese” in his work, which is often described, ironically, as “Kafkaesque,” employing surrealism, fatalism, magic realism, and the existence of parallel worlds in its examination of alienation and loneliness.   

In 1979, Hear the Wind Sing was published and won a prestigious newcomer award.  Throughout the 1980s, Murakami wrote novels in contemporary colloquial language with narrators in their twenties, making his books very popular with young Japanese readers who’d felt put off by the affected and artificial prose of the usual Japanese literary fiction.  In 1987, Murakami released Norwegian Wood (2000 in the U.S.), a more conventional love story—at least by Murakami’s standards.  It became so popular that, among other social phenomena, a cover recording of the Beatles song of the same title rose to number one on the Japanese charts.  In 2007, Murakami published a memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008 in English), the title of which is a reference to the Raymond Carver story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

When his fame became uncomfortable for the novelist, Murakami left Japan and traveled the world, eventually settling in the United States.  Here he wrote the novel that many feel put him the ranks of the internationally renowned writers, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1994-95 in Japan; 1997 in the U.S.), which some consider Murakami’s masterpiece.  Then, almost a decade later, Murakami, now back in Japan, released Kafka on the Shore, a novel that broke from the author’s past practices, not least by replacing his usual 20-something narrator with a teenaged boy.  In another variation, the story’s told in two parallel lines (which I’ll get to shortly because, well . . . so is the play!), and the book became another worldwide bestseller.  In an interview after Kafka was published, Murakami said:

Most of my fiction up till now has been first person narratives dealing with a male protagonist (and narrator) in his 20s or 30s.  A few years ago, however, I started taking a different direction and began writing in a different voice and perspective.  There’s something about that style of writing that suits me.  In any case, whenever I write a new novel I decide on a theme and attempt to do something new and different.

Though Kafka explores weighty ideas like the question of identity (which I’ll also get to when I describe the adaptation), Murakami doesn’t like to discuss analyses of his writing.  He considers his novels as no more than pure stories.  Nonetheless, there are identifiable motifs in Murakami’s novels: jazz as the background beat of many of his book’s scenes and, in the word of one publisher, “the sense that something is just a little out of whack with the world.”  Said Nigel Redden, director of the Lincoln Center Festival, “It’s a world where most of the preconceptions don’t hold.”  Another motif, the frequent appearance of cats, is nearly central to the novel and the play. 

Yukio Ninagawa, who will turn 80 in October, was born in Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture, about 13 miles north of Tokyo.  He began his theater career as an actor in 1955 and joined the Seihai Theater Company.  He made his directorial debut in 1969, and subsequently founded his own companies, Gendaijin-Gekijo (1967-71) and Sakura-sha (1972-74).  He became a leading figure in Tokyo’s “underground theater,” a bit like New York’s early Off-Off-Broadway.  In 1974, however, the producer of the mainstream commercial Toho Theater invited Ninagawa to direct Romeo and Juliet at his theater, beginning the entry of the 39-year-old tyro into the ranks of internationally-renowned stage directors. 

In 1984, Ninagawa started the Gekisha Ninagawa Studio in Tokyo.  This became the Young Ninagawa Company in 1991 and then the Ninagawa Company Dash in 1996.  In 2004, the company once again changed its name to the Ninagawa Studio, which is what it’s called today—though it’s often known internationally as the Ninagawa Company (they’re the same group).  It was with this troupe of young actors that the director developed the adaptation of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

Over the years, Yukio Ninagawa has directed a wide range of productions, including contemporary Japanese plays, classic Greek tragedies, and the works of William Shakespeare.  In fact, he’s mostly known internationally for his interpretations of Western classics, including six different versions of Hamlet.  (In Japan, he’s known as “the director who runs through time.”)  In 1998, Ninagawa launched a project to stage all of Shakespeare’s plays and in 2000, he directed a 10½-hour performance of The Greeks by John Barton and Kenneth Cavender (a combination of 10 Greek classic plays focusing on the Trojan War, originally created and performed over three nights in 1980 by England’s Royal Shakespeare Company).  

In 1983, Ninagawa directed his first production of Euripides’ Medea, which was performed in Greece and his work has toured internationally every year since.  His production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, known in the West as the Ninagawa Macbeth, was first performed in Japan in 2001 and then toured abroad (I saw it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 2002); he staged Yukio Mishima’s Modern Noh Plays (2000 in Japan) as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in 2005.  

In 2006, Ninagawa became artistic director of the Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater (one of the co-producers of Kafka) where he founded a unique troupe, the Saitama Gold Theater, for performers over 55, as well as the Saitama Next Theatre, a project to develop young performers.  (He’s also president of Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music and artistic director of Tokyo Bunkamura Theater Cocoon.)  With his production of Titus Andronicus (2004, Tokyo; 2006, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, and the Theatre Royal, Plymouth), the director was invited to participate in the RSC’s Complete Works festival (2006-07) as Japan’s only representative.  His first Kabuki play, Twelfth Night, was presented as part of Barbican International Theatre Events (BITE) 2009 (an international festival a little like LCF: a round-up of performing arts events from around the world) and Ninagawa has participated in BITE now for several years.  In 2012, the Japanese director’s Cymbeline was presented in London as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.  Ninagawa was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2002 and a Gold Medal from the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts in 2008, and he’s also received many theater awards and honorary degrees in Japan and abroad.    

Yukio Ninagawa has been unwell for a year, during which he nonetheless created Kafka on the Shore and a new version of Hamlet.  He’s recovering, but his doctors still prohibit him from traveling, so for the first time since he began participating in the Lincoln Center Festival (this is his company’s third time), he didn’t accompany his troupe to New York City.  The production was prepared entirely in Japan under Ninagawa’s careful direction.  In his program note, the director insisted that his soul would be “with . . . the company for every performance.”  After its stop at Lincoln Center, Ninagawa’s Kafka on the Shore moves on to Singapore (October-November 2015) and Seoul (November 2015).

The story of Kafka on the Shore is told in two parallel narratives, which overlap occasionally but, like parallels in general, never actually converge.  (In the novel, the strains alternate chapter by chapter, but the play’s scenes don’t unfold quite so regularly.)  In the first, a 15-year-old boy’s run away from his controlling father’s home in Tokyo to escape an Oedipal destiny and find his estranged mother and sister.  We don’t learn his real name but he calls himself Kafka (Nino Furuhata), after his favorite writer.  On the long bus ride to Takamatsu, a provincial capital of almost half a million inhabitants on Shikoku Island, Kafka meets Sakura (Anne Suzuki), who’s the first to reach out to him and on whom he calls later when he needs help.  (Sakura, in fact, tells enough of her background to make her seem like Kafka’s lost sister.)  During his journey he’s frequently accompanied by his alter ego or imaginary friend, Crow (Hayato Kakizawa).  (In the play, Kafka explains that the Prague writer’s name means ‘crow’ in Czech—hence the name of the boy’s avatar.  This struck me as questionable, so I looked it up.  Kafka not only doesn’t translate as ‘crow,’ but it has no known meaning.  An alternate, but less common, spelling, Kavka, doesn’t exactly mean ‘crow,’ but it does translate as ‘jackdaw,’ a member of the same family.  I suppose in Japanese, since the names sound alike, there’d be no difference in the written form—but in English, they don’t line up.)  In Takamatsu, Kafka ends up in a private library run by the mysterious and remote Miss Saeki (Rie Miyazawa) who allows Kafka to stay in the library   The teenager befriends Oshima (Naohito Fujiki), a (gay, female-to-male) transgender librarian to whom he reveals his private thoughts and the two discuss life and literature every day.  For Kafka, it’s an idyllic interlude until the police come to question him about the murder of his father, a famous sculptor, back in Tokyo.    

The second narrative follows Nakata (Katsumi Kiba), a 70-ish-year-old man considered slow and simple.  When he was a schoolboy at the end of World War II, he was involved in a curious incident while on a school trip.  His entire class was left unconscious by a mysterious flash of light.  Young Nakata took longer to recover than his classmates and when he did come to, he’d lost his memory but gained the ability to communicate with cats.  For his disability, Nakata gets what he calls a “sub-city” from the government but he makes a small additional income as a cat whisperer to find lost felines in his Tokyo neighborhood.  (The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli called the character a “holy fool.”)  His current search for Goma, a lost tortoiseshell, takes Nakata on his first-ever road trip.  To help with the search, Nakata interviews stray and run-away cats, including Otsuka (Yukio Tsukamoto), an old black tom, and Mimi (Katrine Mutsukiko Doi Vincent), a Siamese named for the character in Puccini’s La Bohème.  (These aren’t the cats from Cats, but fully animal-costumed felines, wonderfully designed by Ayako Maeda.)  On the road, Nakata gets a lift in the long-haul truck driven by Hoshino (Tsutomu Takahashi), who becomes, first, Nakata’s ride, then his companion, and finally, his devoted friend.  In his search for Goma, the lost cat, Nakata encounters Johnnie Walker (Masato Shinkawa), dressed, like the whiskey logo figure, in top hat, walking stick, buff breeches, English riding boots, and red hunting coat, an infamous, and especially cruel, cat killer who preserves his victims’ heads like a bug collector does insects, eats their hearts, and collects their souls.  Hoshino and the old man also meet the mysterious Colonel Sanders (Masakatsu Toriyama), who may be a spirit of some kind in human form (an aspect of Noh in which a spirit or demon appears first as a “person of the place” and then is revealed as a supernatural being).  The fast-food icon turns out to be a pimp but guides Nakata to the portal he seeks to the spirit world. 

Through this convoluted narrative, Murakami explores themes of identity—Oshima’s transgender character; the possibility that Miss Saeki is Kafka’s long-lost mother; whether Kafka and Nakata are facets of the same person in parallel existences—and destiny.  Kafka’s storyline, which gets more stage time than Nakata’s, owes more than a passing nod to the Oedipus myth and there are echoes of several of Shakespeare’s plays throughout the whole story.  Like the novel, the stage adaptation blends magic realism, allegory, suspense, humor, dream, myth, and sensuality into the two entwined odysseys.  As most reviewers pointed out, however, the “tale . . . resonates viscerally but resists logical explanation.”

Frank Galati’s adaptation of Kafka on the Shore (translated back into Japanese by Shunsuke Hiratsuka after an English-language production by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in the fall of 2008) under Ninagawa’s direction ran three hours with one intermission.  (Galati, a long-time member of Steppenwolf, is probably best known for another adaptation of a novel for the stage: Steppenwolf’s The Grapes of Wrath, 1990 Best Play Tony-winner.  Galati also won the Tony for Best Direction of a Play for the production.  Previously, he adapted and staged two Murakami short stories, “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” and “Honey Pie,” in 2005-06.)  As one or two reviewers agreed, the production of Kafka started out with promise—it looked interesting and theatrically innovative—but about two-thirds of the way through the first act (say about an hour in), it hadn’t advanced as a piece of theater—nothing changed; it all remained the same—and I started to peek at my watch.  As a three-hour adaptation of a novel, with which I have some long-standing issues, it’s just about all talk, and being in Japanese with supertitles, I was doing a lot of reading.  And head-bobbing.  It was a great let-down that ended up being terribly enervating.  I think I’d have been better off reading Murakami’s novel (which is 480 pages in English). 

Greater length is a common fault of plays adapted from novels.  (Galati’s Grapes ran two-and-a-half hours.  Even the musical adaptation of Gigi, based on Colette’s novel but with the MGM film by Lerner and Loewe as a template, was two-and-a-half hours long—and musicals tend to cleave to the standard two-hour length.)  Except for a few notable exceptions (Of Mice and MenLook Homeward, AngelThe Member of the Wedding), I have serious reservations about all that genre—and length is only one of them.  Most novel adaptations go long because the writers try to squeeze in as much of the story as they can and novels tend to have more plot than plays (and more characters).  This is what I think happened in Kafka.  If they don’t follow that path, the writers tend to cut close to the bone and omit too much story and the play leaves too many parts of the plot unrevealed.  Another tendency for stage adaptations of novels, which also occurred in Kafka, is that the adapters focus on whatever action there is and eschew the intellectual aspects of the novel, which are more difficult for actors to convey on stage.  Kafka on the Shore is a heavily philosophical book, not terribly action-packed, so Galati dropped much of the deep thinking.  Even so, given how metaphysical the novel is, this still left the script mostly dialogue, almost all of it static two-character scenes.  (Another substitute for the missing action is narration, one of the least dramatic and theatrical devices known to theater.)  The set concept (realized by Tsukasa Nakagoshi and lit by Motoi Hattori), which really looked like a fantastic idea, helped reduce the scope of the production (on the large stage at the Koch, designed to accommodate dance companies and the accompanying movement) by isolating each scene in a smidgen of set and a tiny pool of light.  (It didn’t help matters that Diana and I were sitting in the third ring—of five—in the 2,586-seat house.) 

There have been, of course, stage adaptations from novels that have worked very well.  Usually, success depends on the choice of source and the judicious and theater-savvy nature of the adapters’ transformations (think the RSC adaptation of Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby or the National Theatre of Great Britain’s stage version of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse).  Unfortunately, Kafka on the Shore didn’t turn out to be one of them.  Like many novels, Murakami’s Kafka has many scene locations, too many to recreate on stage one at a time; scene changes alone would lake as long as a one-act play.  So director Ninagawa and set designer Nakagoshi created a collection of different-sized Plexiglas boxes within which Nakagoshi built truncated portions of the sites, from a forest to a vacant lot to Miss Saeki’s library office to the cab of Hoshino’s long-distance truck, and more.  Ninagawa has said that he’d wanted to use dioramas in his work ever since he saw some at the American Museum of Natural History in New York when he visited as a boy, and the set fragments (giving new meaning to “box set”), which are wheeled about the stage by black-clad stagehands who resembled the traditional kurombo of Kabuki theater or koken of Noh, are reminiscent of dioramas—but they also reminded me of terraria, miniature environments for living specimens.  (I was immensely impressed with the swirling movement of the rolling boxes as the scenes are reset without computer guidance or tracks—in the semi-dark, to boot.  How did they never collide, topple, or just hit the wrong spot at the wrong time?  Marvelous.) 

This, sadly, is one of the things in Kafka on the Shore that became a disappointment.  The weaving set boxes looked like a highly theatrical technique, but the process never changed.  Instead of surprising or intriguing it became routine and I just wanted it to stop so the play could continue.  In addition, the little set fragments, encased in Plexiglas and outlined by black frames, reduced the world of the play to little snapshots, like the videos on a smartphone in comparison to a movie screen.  Murakami’s novels, I gather, are mind-expanding, full of magic and metaphysics; this design concept shrinks the play’s scope.  Surrounding the scene in darkness with the silhouettes of the other boxes scattered around the stage only emphasized the isolation.  Motoi Hattori’s fluorescent lighting within the boxes, the metallic sound design by Katsuji Takahashi, and Umitaro Abe’s dissonant music supported the hypnotic character of the production but couldn’t clarify Murakami confusing concepts or Ninagawa’s breathless staging.

It was a tad difficult to form a clear impression of the individual performances in Kafka since I had to spend so much of the show reading the supertitles above the actors’ heads.  With so much dialogue—the French text of Ubu Roi two nights before was more compact (and, of course, I was familiar with that play and can still understand some French here and there)—it was a choice between knowing what the characters were saying and seeing what the actors were doing.  (I really much prefer the days of the headphones with simultaneous translations: I could watch the actors and still get the English explanation.)  Additionally, Kafka on the Shore is an ensemble play—even though the performance is divided into mostly two-character scenes—because each actor’s work feeds off of and into the work of all the others.  The one exception, to a degree, was Katsumi Kiba who played Nakata in so endearing and open-faced a way—Marilyn Stasio of Variety called his performance “disarming”—that the character nearly took over the whole production.  Kiba’s calm in the midst of everyone else’s tension and energy not only made him stand out but made him the eye of a theatrical hurricane.  The other notable performances were delivered by Yukio Tsukamoto and Katrine Mutsukiko Doi Vincent as the cats Otsuka and Mimi.  They stood upright occasionally and, of course, they spoke, but when they moved about on all fours and behaved like felines, they were as convincing as any computer-generated kitties on film—absolutely astonishing.  As for the rest of the cast, they were all clearly accomplished actors giving, despite Murakami’s and Galati’s fantastic material, excellent realistic performances, strong enough that I could often glean what they were feeling even without reading the titles.  If they hadn’t been tasked with so much to convey, I might have enjoyed their work even more.

Like Ubu Roi, the press coverage for Kafka on the Shore was scant—surprising considering the stature of both Murakami and Ninagawa and the prominence of Kafka as a centerpiece of this year’s LCF.  In the New York Post, Elisabeth Vincentelli credited the Lincoln Center Festival “for taking on this staging of Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore,’ with its talking cats, mysterious ‘gateway stone,’ occasional animal cruelty and possible incest” (Kafka has sex with Miss Saeki even though he thinks she might be his mother), and continued, “Even better, director Yukio Ninagawa and his cast pull it off—at least for the play’s first act.”  Visually, Vincentelli reported, the production was “stunning” and the “first half of this three-hour piece moves briskly”; however, in the second act, “things grind to a halt, the magic replaced by cloying affect and willfully confusing mumbo jumbo that will charm Harukists but bore everyone else.”  The Post reviewer put the blame largely on Murakami’s novel, but also laid some on “Ninagawa’s suddenly heavy-handed staging.  Like those wonderful cats, he should have trod more lightly.”  

“A sudden craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken swept over me at one point during” Kafka, quipped Charles Isherwood in the New York Times.  “It has been well more than a decade since I’ve visited a KFC, but those familiar with Mr. Murakami’s playful metaphysical mystery will recall that Colonel Sanders . . . is among the strange array of characters in the book.”  Calling the production “visually arresting but ponderous,” Isherwood pointed out that the whiskey icon Johnnie Walker is also a figure on stage and added that “by the conclusion” of the performance, “thoughts of crispy chicken had been swept away by a stronger craving for a bracing glass of that liquor.  Or indeed any other.”  Adapter Galati, said the Timesman, “does a smooth job of streamlining the book, but as is often the case with stage versions of philosophically inquisitive novels (or for that matter, nonphilosophically inquisitive ones),” just as I complained earlier, “story tends to take precedence over the less easily dramatized layers.”  Isherwood further explained: “As the plot develops, many more swirling currents develop, each as surprising, mystifying or simply bewildering as the one before.  Unfortunately, . . . the production does not allow for the characters to inhabit our imaginations as richly as they do in the book.  (And forget trying to parse the murky layers of meaning.)”  As I did, the Times reviewer also noted, “In the large theater, the performances likewise are unable to register powerfully, especially since the sometimes densely philosophical dialogue and the myriad oddities of the plot require us to pay close attention to the titles high above the stage.”  “Still,” he said, “the actors give winning if mostly economical interpretations of their characters.”  Isherwood ended by asserting that “in sum,” Kafka on the Shore is “a long, strange story.”

Variety’s Marilyn Stasio dubbed the adaptation “startling,”  but added that it “loses considerable magic by cramming in too many non-visual details from the novel’s mythic storyline.”  As a result, said Stasio, the “talky scenes also lose their intellectual zest on stage” and the stage adaptation of the novel became “less intimate” than the novel.  “The sense of enchantment that defines Murakami’s whimsical story,” reported the Variety review-writer, “comes across best in the amazing design work.”  While she praised the work of Hattori (lighting), Takahashi (soundscape), and Abe (music), Stasio ended by complaining that none of the production elements “can fully penetrate the deep, dark landscape of Murakami’s mind.” 

In the Hollywood Reporter, Frank Scheck quipped, “‘It reminds me of some weird avant-garde play,’ comments one of the characters in Kafka on the Shore, and boy, is he right on the money.”  Scheck added that “this phantasmagorical stage production features so many ideas, themes, metaphors and literary and historical allusions that it threatens to burst at the seams,” but, said the HR reviewer, thanks to Ninagawa, “it somehow never does.”  It does make, however, for “one seriously strange evening of theater in which reality and fantasy are ever-shifting propositions” which covers “so many . . . subjects that the play should be accompanied not with a program but rather a syllabus.”  Scheck reported, “Visually, the production is a stunner,” but continued, “For a good stretch of its three-hour running time it’s all quite entertaining, thanks to the sheer audacity of its imagination and welcome doses of surreal humor.  But the longer the evening goes on the more frustrating and enervating it gets.”  He found that “there’s no denying that a strange new world has been dazzlingly conceived,” but concluded, “What it all means is anybody’s guess.”  The man from Hollywood ended by averring, “It’s fun to be there, at least for part of the wild ride,” then wisecracked: “Just don’t be surprised when you get home afterwards and find yourself tempted to discuss it with your cat.”

“‘Is it really possible for Kafka on the Shore to be a play?’ someone asked on Lincoln Center Festival’s facebook page. The answer is ‘Yes,’ but not without it’s problems.”  So wrote Susan Miyagi Hamaker on the website Japan Culture-NYC.  (It slugs itself as “All Things Japanese In New York City.”)   It’s not a formal review site, but I though it would be interesting to see what someone from inside the Japanese cultural scene might have to say about this performance.  Hamaker, a freelance writer and the editor of the site who calls herself a “Japanophile looking for all things Japanese in NYC,” summed up the experience of seeing Kafka: “It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t terrible”; she confessed, however, “I like focusing on the positive whenever I review anything Japanese-related.”  She felt that Ninagawa had “used this concept [of the Plexglas dioramas] to perfection in the staging of Murakami’s novel” and she pronounced the sets, of which this was a focal element, “Phenomenal.”  (Hamaker was especially taken with the work of the black-attired kuroko—as she called them, literally “black people,” the same as what I called kurombo or koken earlier.)  Our Japanophile was also taken with the performance of Katsumi Kiba as Nakata, who “tells the truth with his matter-of-fact delivery,” and the cats, “gorgeous and realistically cat-like thanks to flexible actors and to costume designer Ayako Maeda.”  Hamaker was less taken with Murakami’s story and its “multiple philosophical layers,” remarking, “To the production’s credit the story wasn’t wrapped up with a tidy bow, but there were many unanswered questions.”   Despite the production’s three-hour length, there “still wasn’t enough time to dive into the complexities of the story lines, the deep philosophical discussions, and the parallel stories of Kafka and Nakata that never intersected even though I kept anticipating it.”  “Despite its shortcomings,” Hamaker concluded, “it was visually stunning with delightful acting.”
Kafka on the Shore’s on a wide-ranging tour, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it shows up somewhere near where ROT-readers are.  I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the production—you see that most of the published press agreed with my assessment—unless you’re a fan of Ninagawa, Murakami, or Kafka on the Shore as a novel.  Another draw might be just to see how the director has handled the material—but three hours is a long sit just for that.  (Maybe you can second-act a performance.  But don’t tell anyone I suggested that.)

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