The mechanical cry of a bird haunts Haruki Murakami’s great novel like the sound of a wound-up spring, following the hero, Toru Okada, on his curious quest for a missing cat, then a missing wife, finally his own identity, in the far reaches of his consciousness, down dry wells and across modern Tokyo.
It’s an impossible kind of fiction to render on the stage – though Proust has been done successfully by both Harold Pinter and the Glasgow Citizens – and this version, quiet, serious, understated, fails on almost every level.
As a spectacle, with video, silhouettes, a spindly wooden puppet visibly manipulated, and a slightly portentous narrative, it is painfully Robert Lepage-lite. As a “taste” of Murakami, it is almost facetiously simple-minded, lacking any sense of density or mystery. And as a story, it must be impenetrable if you don’t know the book.
Stephen Earnhart’s production, flaccidly designed by Tom Lee, doesn’t even look beautiful, just murky, with James Yaegashi’s Toru meandering through sliding screens and the twilight zone of his own imagination under a silver blue moon, bumping into the teenage girl who is his salvation, the brother-in-law whom he hates and the Japanese prisoner of war who recounts the horrors of a spying mission in Outer Mongolia.
Earnhart, a former producer with Miramax Films, has provided the adaptation with Greg Pierce, and assembled a willing company of Japanese American actors, but the biggest impression is made by the exotic Bora Yoon, who provides live electronic and percussive accompaniment wearing a beautiful black dress and elaborate fascinator.