With his new film Burning, writer-director Lee Chang-dong embarks on one of modern cinema’s greatest challenges: adapting Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
The critically renowned author is known for books like Norwegian Wood, adapted into a passing 2012 film, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which no one in the film world seems daring enough to attempt, both of which have earned him crossover acclaim in America. But unlike such populist, literary titans like Stephen King, filmmakers haven’t reaped his bibliography for big-screen ventures. While “Barn Burning,” the short on which Burning is based, isn’t the first of shorts to make it to screen, the film is the first major adaptation of Murakami’s work to have picked up awards (at the Cannes Film Festival, nonetheless) and receive unanimously positive reviews.
There’s a reason: in Murakami’s work, emphasis is placed on the mundane aspects of everyday life as opposed to focusing on what may seem to be ostensibly more “interesting.” While Murakami’s mundane doesn’t always offer a quick fix in terms of gratification, it is by no means ordinary; his prose can enchant even the most stagnant, passing thoughts. Take this quote from “Barn Burning,” written from the perspective of the story’s protagonist:
You burn barns. I don’t burn barns. There’s this glaring difference, and to me, rather than say which of us is strange, first of all I’d like to…