Like millions of people around the world, I enjoy the work of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. So I had to watch the documentary Dreaming Murakami, which is actually about his Danish translator Mette Holm, and the difficulties of translating from another culture and another writing system.
Should a certain Japanese word in a passage about the impossibility of perfection be translated as “sentence,” “text” or “work,” as in an entire novel? That’s just one of many questions to be answered. Murakami’s stories deal with memories, sensations, the world of the imagination. Sometimes there are parallel time lines, or multiple worlds, and nameless narrators. What a challenge! Holm reminds us that a person must know at least 1,850 kanji characters to read a Japanese newspaper, and then admits that she does not have a good memory for them. Ouch!
We see Mette Holm in Denmark, working at home with her cat (Murakami likes cats, too) talking to other translators on the phone and in person, and at meetings at her publishing house. She makes a half-hearted effort to be diplomatic when she does not like a proposed book cover. She warns that Murakami probably won’t like it either. The publisher looks crushed.
We also see Holm in Japan, leaving Ueno station (it figures in some of Murakami’s stories), taking cabs, talking to people in bars, possibly in the same one that Murakami used to own, or one much like it. The view of the city from her hotel room window made me think of my visit to Seoul, South Korea.
Intriguingly, Holm came to her work as Murakami’s translator by a rather roundabout route, via French and France.
The film ends just before a sold-out conversation between Holm and Murakami at the National Library of Denmark in November, 2016. It’s an artistic decision I have mixed feelings about. It might have been nice to at least see them shake hands, embrace, whatever they did upon meeting.
Another artistic decision that didn’t make the film better, in my eyes, was a large CGI frog that follows Holm around Tokyo. He is the title character from Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, a short story by Murakami that was published in 2002.
(“Katagiri found a giant frog waiting for him in his apartment. It was powerfully built, standing over six feet tall on its hind legs. A skinny little man no more than five foot three, Katagiri was overwhelmed by the frog’s imposing bulk. ‘Call me ‘Frog,’ said the frog in a clear, strong voice.”)
The frog in the film is tall, but not bulky, and his voice is low, slow, and muffled. Frog wants help in fighting “Worm” but if you haven’t read the story you won’t know that if Worm is not stopped soon he will cause an earthquake that will devastate Tokyo. You can read Super-Frog Saves Tokyo on the GQ web site. Despite his serious mission, the character of Frog has some amusing aspects, to my mind. In the short story, not in the film.
Because I am a big fan, maybe I was expecting too much from Dreaming Murakami. It’s interesting enough, though there’s nothing earth-shattering in it. On the other hand, I’m not sorry that I saw it and I don’t want my 57 minutes back either.
Dreaming Murakami is being shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, along with two other shorts. Teta, Opi & Me, directed by Tara Hakim, is the love story of her Austrian grandmother and Arab grandfather. It’s 25 minutes long. Turning Tables, directed by Chrisann Hessing, is about Joshua DePerry, a music producer, DJ and dancer from the Anishinaabe community in Thunder Bay. It’s 16 minutes long.
Country : Denmark, Japan
Year : 2017
V.O : Danish, Japanese, English
Subtitles : English
Duration : 57 minutes
Cinematography : Agapi Triantafillidis
Editing : Denniz Göl Bertelsen, Nikoline Løgstrup
Production : Signe Byrge Sørensen, Pernille Tornøe
Sound Design : Andreas Sandborg
Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, 8:15 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc – Salle 3
3575 Park Ave, Montreal, QC H2X 3P9
Visit the RIDM web site for more information about the festival.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/242255046″>Dreaming Murakami – Trailer UK subs</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/finalcutforreal”>Final Cut for Real</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>