What connects Drive My Car to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood?

By Larry Ryan
Composite of images of Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, Barton Fink, Haruki Murakami, Steven Yeun in Burning and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood
Composite: Guardian Design/WireImage/Mgm/Allstar/Working Title/Pine House Film/Getty Images

Beep beep, yeah

Drive My Car, the new film from Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, was well received in Cannes (five stars!) and has just landed in UK cinemas. The “mysterious and beautiful” tale of a theatre director grappling with art and infidelity is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, from his collection Men Without Women.

Haruki Murakami in Barcelona, June 2011.
Drive My Car was inspired by a short story by Haruki Murakami … Photograph: EPA

Page to screen

There have been numerous adaptations of the beloved Japanese author’s work. A recent standout is Burning, named one of the Guardian’s best films of 2019 (streaming options here). The unsettling thriller shifts the location from Murakami’s Japan to director Lee Chang-dong’s South Korea. Look out for a devilish performance from Steven Yeun (later seen in Minari).

Steven Yeun, Burning, 2018.
… as was Burning, starring Steven Yeun … Photograph: Allstar

Sound, fury, etc …

The film shortens the title of Murakami’s original short story Barn Burning – and both nod to a story of the same name by William Faulkner, published in 1939. Faulkner is no stranger to the cinema either, having turned to screenwriting for cash during Hollywood’s golden age (though he didn’t see it as quite so golden – the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink offers a dark take on Faulkner’s experiences).

John Turturro in Barton Fink, 1991.
… which nods to another story by William Faulkner, whose time in Hollywood was captured in Barton Fink. Photograph: Allstar

Getting the Humph

Faulkner was one of three writers on the 1946 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, the gold standard for detective noir mysteries – on the page and on screen. The shadow Chandler casts is large: Robert Altman’s polarising/brilliant adaptation of The Long Goodbye (Rent/buy on Amazon) updates the Philip Marlowe character with a burned-out, ironic tilt – and a perfect dose of 1970s Elliott Gould.

Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, 1973.
Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, adapted from the novel by Raymond Chandler – Murakami’s favourite writer. Photograph: Allstar

Following the gumshoes

Murakami has said that Chandler is his favourite writer – and translated his work into Japanese. Meanwhile, Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice riffed on LA detective fiction (and pretty much everything else) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s film version (streaming options here) came with a score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. The composer also wrote music for the 2010 adaptation of Norwegian Wood, the 1987 novel that turned Murakami into a literary superstar. Between them, Jonny and Haruki have this case sewn up.

Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead performs in Manchester, July 2017.
Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who wrote the music for the film of Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood. Photograph: Getty Images

Pairing notes

Read Murakami’s love of jazz, vinyl, the Beatles and jogging is well documented: lesser known is his vast collection of T-shirts, the subject of a new essay collection, Murakami T.

Eat Murakami characters are often eating, making the reader want to eat, too: start imbibing with his early novel After Dark, opening in a Denny’s with an order of chicken salad and crispy toast.

Black and white cartoon rabbits disappearing down their holes through a red line
Illustration: Guardian Design

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