The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars *****
IN A FLAT SOMEWHERE IN MODERN TOKYO, a man is folding laundry, obsessively smoothing it into neat piles. There’s no sense, though – as a thread of strange, haunting song from live musician Bora Yoon launches New York-based director Stephen Earnhart and co-writer Greg Pierce’s great new stage version of Haruki Murakami’s acclaimed 1996 novel – that we’re about to experience a story grounded in domestic naturalism. For all around the hero’s head, as he kneels by his laundry-basket, there swirls a world of images, dreams, ghosts and premonitions, brilliantly conjured up not only in Tom Lee’s ravishing set of shifting screens, but also in Jane Shaw’s magnificent sound design, which seems to whisper, echo and insist from every corner of the theatre.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tells the story of an ordinary man of 30 or so, Toru Okada, whose wife has disappeared; and of his struggle for her soul against the forces around her brother Noboru, a violent, bullying media star with political ambitions who believes that Japan should rediscover its machismo, its militaristic soul. The story swirls unsettlingly with mingled strands of sex and violence, many of which lead back to Noboru; if the old soldier who comes to visit Toru represents the best of the old military tradition, Noboru represents the worst of it, repackaged for an age of pornography, prostitution, and sadistic reality television.
It’s into this darkness that Kumiko has vanished; and for a short, rich, intense yet often dreamlike two hours, James Yaegashi’s gentle, searching Toru tries to find her there. The colours of his inner journey are intense and breathtaking, the stage pictures unforgettable, the acting of Earnhart’s fourteen-strong New York company precise, beautiful, and richly detailed. And the show that emerges – like the novel itself – is a work of art that speaks deeply and powerfully to the theme of this year’s international Festival; in that it goes to the heart of recent Japanese experience, and finds there a pulse of lost, dislocated and dreaming humanity that is instantly recognisable to any one of us, living in a world both bounded and made infinite by the big screens around us, in any modern city on earth.
Until 24 August
eif p. 18