News & Articles

Artistic Director Interviews The Adapter/Director

2008-2009, Volume 1
by Martha Lavey and Frank Galati



INTERVIEW

MARTHA LAVEY: When did you first seize upon the idea that you might want to adapt Haruki Murakami’s novel “Kafka on the Shore?”

FRANK GALATI: It was during the rehearsals for after the quake a few years ago. It was then that I read “Kafka on the Shore” for the first time. I remember having conversations with actors Aiko Nakasone, Keong Sim, Hanson Tse and Andy Pang about how outrageous it would be to dramatize a book as epic as “Kafka on the Shore.” Nevertheless I kept returning to it and thinking about how viable it might be on stage. It’s so rich in dialogue scenes that it seemed a very appetizing candidate for dramatization.

ML: You mention the scale of the book. You have done many literary adaptations in your career and we, of course, remember your adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” here at Steppenwolf. What do you consider to be the largest work you’ve adapted?

FG: It might even be “Kafka on the Shore.” “The Grapes of Wrath” has an alternating structure like “Kafka on the Shore” in that there are what Steinbeck called the “general chapters” and the “specific chapters.” This book, too, alternates back and forth between the third person narration of the Nakata chapters (the ones that seem to be a little more surreal and outrageous) and the first person narration of the Kafka chapters. I’d say that “Kafka on the Shore” is certainly one of the biggest books I’ve attempted to adapt on the stage.

ML: Do you think there is anything inherent to that alternating structure that gives the story purchase on the stage?

FG: Yes. Although, with “The Grapes of Wrath” I was able to compress the narrative because the so-called “general chapters” were not particularly stage worthy. I could follow the Joad journey with a certain amount of efficiency because it’s only half of the book. The double narrative structure of “Kafka on the Shore” prevented me from eliding half the book because its storytelling energy depends on moving back and forth between the story of Nakata and the story of Kafka.

ML: It is my perception that you have your foot down slightly more on allowing the Kafka narrative to be the spine of the story, whereas you’re not tracking Nakata in the same way.

FG: I think that is accurate. In this adaptation of “Kafka on the Shore” I take advantage of the two narrative threads within the Kafka story; that of Kafka (speaking in the first person) and his alter-ego Crow (speaking in the second person).

ML: It’s a trope in literary adaptation to bifurcate the narrative to dramatize the internal voice, correct?

FG: Yes, exactly. In my adaptation of “Kafka on the Shore” I have eliminated almost all of the narration. I take advantage of Crow as a shadow character to allow the audience to enter the internal regions of Kafka’s journey, his mind and his heart. It is particularly effective in those intimate scenes with the Young Ms. Saeki. This is unlike after the quake in which I took advantage of the narration in two of the stories.

ML: In after the quake the central character is a writer and, in a sense, his redemption is in storytelling. In that piece, the act of narrating is part of the story.

FG: The healing aspect of story, which is so tenderly explored in “after the quake,” is also an aspect of Kafka on the Shore, though it is different in the way it unfolds and the way it comes into the light. I’ve been very struck in reading Jay Rubin’s book “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words.” The collection of stories in “after the quake” is poised in the moment between the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the Sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway that occurred the very next month. These were huge events for Murakami, not just because they immediately affected his artistic life, but also because they affected his very soul. Murakami felt that he needed to move his work into another region of expressiveness in which he could incorporate what he was beginning to see as his growing responsibility as an artist to address contemporary social issues.

In his first book of nonfiction, “Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and The Japanese Psyche,” he interviews scores of survivors of the gas attacks and members of the cult who were responsible for the attacks. (Incidentally, he uses the Studs Terkel method, acknowledging Terkel’s genius as an interviewer). One of the things Murakami talks about regarding the nature of cults, terrorist sects, and even World War II imperial militarism is the complete subjugation of the ego. That is to say, the enslavement of ego by the cult. It is this absorption of the ego that he is working through in “Kafka on the Shore.”

In “Underground” he writes, ‘If you lose your ego, you lose the thread of that narrative you call yourself. Humans, however, can’t live very long without some sense of a continuing story. Such stories go beyond the limited rationale system or the systematic rationality with which you surround yourself. They are crucial keys to sharing time experience with others. A narrative is a story, not logic, not ethics, nor philosophy. It is a dream you keep having whether you realize it or not. Just as surely as you breathe, you go on carelessly dreaming your story. And in these stories you wear two faces; you are simultaneously subject and object. You are the whole and you are a part. You are real and you are shadow, storyteller and at the same time character. It is through such multi-layering of lulls in our stories that we heal the loneliness of being an isolated individual in the world. Yet without a proper ego nobody can create a personal narrative any more than you can drive a car without an engine or cast a shadow with a real physical object. But once you’ve consigned your ego to someone else, where on earth do you go from there?’ That is precisely what Kafka comes to at the end of the first act in my adaptation.

ML: Here Murakmi seems interested in the power of states, of fascist states in particular. In the dream sequences in “Kafka on the Shore” I think he suggests that if you, by effacing your own ego and giving up your own authorship, become part of a dream of someone like Hitler, you bear the responsibility for being in the dream as much as dreaming it.

FG: Kafka says, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” It is a supreme artistic achievement for this distinguished novelist to push his art forward from the personal exploration of the psychology of the contemporary soul into an engagement with the world, with history itself. He explores the way each of us may be connected to a larger narrative.

ML: Which raises the question, “When do I join the narrative of history, see myself in that context and take responsibility?”

FG: Absolutely. He steps up, he accelerates, he intensifies his artistic mission. He expands it and in so doing he touches on the carnage of World War II and also seizes the oedipal myth. He’s working in universal terms. This is not just a story about a guy who looks for lost cats or a kid who runs away from his dysfunctional family. This is about the mythical dimension of the domestic tragedy. The universal oedipal story serves as a template for the narrative that Murakami creates.

ML: There is a motive that has to do with being in search of something, of being anxious about one’s riches and discovering the gem was underneath the mattress. Everything you actually need you already have, you just have to discover it. The figure of the labyrinth, the inner journey, is an emblem of that search. It is such a strong, mythic piece of wisdom. It obtains for Kafka coming home to himself.

FG: Resonant with this idea of the labyrinth is Murakami’s obsession with all things subterranean. He has said, “What I write are stories in which the hero is looking for the right way in this world of chaos. At the same time, I think there is another world that is underground. You can access this inner world in your mind. If you’re trained, you can find the passage and come and go between the two worlds.”

ML: Frank, now that you’ve been living with “Kafka on the Shore,” how has it colored your own weather?

FG: Being a fellow traveler with Murakami on his journeys is tremendous consolation. I feel affirmed and reassured, not only because of his amazing wit and far-ranging imagination but also because of the observations he makes about the human mystery. He understands me and he’s helping me understand myself. I have learned to let the work lead me instead of my leading the work. That’s been very exhilarating.

More Information