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Haruki Murakami's Kafka On The Shore gets a gorgeous staging by the Ninagawa Company, one of the finest theatre companies in Japan.

Murakami's mysteries unfold on stage

His famed metaphysical novel Kafka On The Shore gets a staging this month.
Oct 16, 2015 5:50 AM

BY the time they reached the ending of Kafka On The Shore, thousands of readers were baffled enough by the novel to pose 8,000 questions to reclusive author Haruki Murakami on his publisher's website. The committed professional that he is, Murakami replied to over 1,200 of them - even though his cryptic replies may cloud matters more than they clarify. The UFO, the giant slug, the spectral village between worlds and the fish falling from the sky never did quite get a full explanation.

At the end of this month, Kafka On The Shore is set to be staged at the Esplanade by Ninagawa Company, one of the finest theatre companies in Japan, and the world. And though the production has received rave reviews in New York and London, director Yukio Ninagawa has also chosen to be cryptic in his replies about the story.

The director, who turned 80 on Thursday, says: "When you first read them, you find Murakami's words easy to understand. But upon examining it deeper, the work portrays deep and heavy themes. And this is the point I am moved by and surprised at."

Unwilling to engage too deeply in a discussion of Murakami's metaphysical riddles, he says: "Murakami's world is special because it is transparent. Ideas are brought up without using complex words. Ideational things are presented beautifully - not violently, but tenderly - in his writing."

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Ninagawa read the novel thrice before working on the stage concept, but admitted that "everything was challenging. I needed over 100 crew and cast members working very hard to create the world of Murakami."

Kafka On The Shore tells the story of a 15-year-old boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home to escape an Oedipal prophecy that he would one day kill his father and sleep with his mother and sister.

Kafka arrives at a seaside town which has a little library run by the beautiful Miss Saeki and her assistant, Oshima. Kafka begins to work at the library and spends his days reading books - until the police arrives to question him about the murder of Kafka's father.

The novel juxtaposes Kafka's story with that of Satoru Nakata, an elderly simpleton who cannot read or write, but has an uncanny ability to communicate with cats and make fish fall from the sky. When Nakata meets a vicious cat killer called Johnie Walker, Nakata stabs him to death. Bizarrely though, it is Kafka who wakes up shortly after, splattered with blood that could be his father's.

How is Kafka linked to Nakata? Are they different versions of the same person? Questions abound in this philosophical tale that has been given a gorgeous, dreamlike staging by director Ninagawa.

Young actor Nino Furuhata, who plays the title character of Kafka, says: "I'm not sure exactly what the story was trying to tell us. But from my own perspective, the events taking place in the story and every character made me think of the level of corruption, manipulation and brainwashing going on in the world."

"Though it may not be intended to harm, the ideologies and socially accepted norms we follow may be the results of principles passed down by higher forms of authority to help us cope with daily life.  Dogma and fear can easily take over our decision-making, depriving us of our connection with nature and weakening our connection to our powerful natural instincts." 

Well, that's one way of interpreting the story. Ninagawa's three-hour production, with its much-praised stage and lighting designs, is set to offer more.

Kafka On The Shore plays at the Esplanade Theatre from Oct 30 to Nov 1 at 8pm and 2pm. Tickets from S$48 to S$118 are selling fast