Hear The Wind Sing is like the 'Seinfeld' of Haruki Murakami novels. It's essentially a book about nothing, but its amusing characters and charming moments make it a fun read. The plot involves the protagonist's return home from Tokyo for the summer, and, well, that's pretty much it. Murakami, embarrassed by his earliest work, kept the book's English translation in obscurity for many years. Even more obscure is the 1981 movie, released just two years after the novel's publication. It was not easy to track down, but I finally got a chance to see Kazuki Ohmori's film adaptation one year after visiting some of the places where it was filmed.
THE SETTING: FILM vs. NOVEL LOCATIONS
After visiting Hyogo Prefecture to seek out the locations from Hear The Wind Sing and its sequel Pinball, 1973, I watched the film with a special interest in the movie's setting and filming locations. The novel, of course, takes place in an unnamed small town somewhere in Hyogo Precture – either Ashiya or somewhere near it. The film, on the other hand, takes place mostly in Hyogo's capital of Kobe.
This change from small town to big city did not negatively effect the movie, as many other details from the book were left intact. Also, Ashiya and Kobe are so close that many young people from around there spend lots of their time hanging out in Kobe anyway.
One major setting change is the scene from the book where the narrator and the Rat crash their car into the park with the monkey cage. The crash in the film instead happens just under the Nishinomiya baseball stadium. The pair then proceed to drink and talk inside the stadium itself, rather than at a nearby beach.
Hankyu Nishinomiya Stadium no longer exists, but the park with the monkey cage can actually still be visited in Ashiya's Uchide area.
Though I wasn't able to watch the movie before my trip, I was already aware that the scenes from J's Bar were filmed in a Kobe bar called Half Time. The visit to Half Time was the highlight of my tour around Hyogo Prefecture, as it really does look almost exactly like the J's Bar described in the novel.
In the novel, the narrator says how the peanut shells left by the Rat and him “would have carpeted the floor of J’s Bar at a depth of five centimeters.” Impressively, the director went as far to include this detail in the movie. Today, some of the peanuts from the shoot are kept inside a jar on the bar counter.
TONE & ACCURACY
Speaking of Ohmori's keen attention to detail, many other aspects of the novel are accurately portrayed on screen. You'll see plenty of drunken, philosophical conversations between the narrator and the Rat. The eccentric radio DJ who appears throughout the novel also plays a significant role in the film.
As the book itself does not contain much of a story to begin with, the strength of Hear The Wind Sing lies entirely in its quirky characters and sense of nostalgia for one's carefree student days. Ohmori does an excellent job at recreating the lighthearted tone of the book while also preventing it from feeling too silly.
The film and the novel are so alike that they also share the same faults, namely their lack of tension, climax or story development. The book, at least, is kept short, but somehow the movie stretches out to an hour and forty minutes long.
While that's a normal length for most movies, with so little going on in the story, the film could've benefited from being trimmed down by at least 20 minutes or so.
Setting aside, there are a few noticeable differences between the book and the movie, one of which has to do with the Rat.
In the book (and its two sequels) the Rat is an aspiring writer who occasionally shares drafts of his novels with his best friend. In Hear The Wind Sing's film adaptation, on the other hand, the Rat is now an aspiring film director.
A scene from one of his films is shown at the end and it turns out to be very reminiscent of the Derek Hartfield story in the book, the one in which many wells were dug up on Mars. Speaking of Hartfield, there's also no mention of the narrator's trip to the United States to track down places from the (fictional) author's life.
These few differences did not hurt the film overall. As mentioned, the film's major fault is its length. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by 1981's Hear The Wind Sing film adaptation. Just like the novel, it's humorous, witty and also kind of boring.
HEAR THE WIND SING vs. NORWEGIAN WOOD
Admittedly, I had never heard of Kazuki Ohmori before watching the film and was surprised to find out that he'd go on to direct a couple of Godzilla movies over the years. He's still active as a director and his most recent project, released in 2015, is a story about Vietnam. This is an interesting coincidence, considering the only other person to make a film based on a Murakami full-length novel is the Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung.
Hear The Wind Sing, despite being incredibly difficult to track down these days, is the better film adaptation between the two. These two stories are very different but the main criticism most people have of Tran's Norwegian Wood is that it leaves out the humorous and charming elements from the book.
While I haven't seen anything else by Ohmori and don't know how the director handles dark and heavy scenes, I have a feeling he would've been able to make both a more entertaining and accurate version of Norwegian Wood than Tran did.
HOW TO WATCH THE FILM
Hear The Wind Sing does not appear to be legally available for purchase anywhere outside of Japan. It can be rented or purchased digitally from Amazon.co.jp, but for that you would need a Japanese credit card, something which even very few foreign expats in Japan are able to obtain.
Furthermore, the few versions of the film circulating out there in the dark depths of the internet probably won't even contain English subtitles. I was able to understand the film without them, but if your Japanese ability isn't up to par then it's simply not worth the effort.
Considering how Murakami's first two novels were finally re-released in English a couple years ago, one would think it's only a matter of time before we get an official foreign release of the movie. Better than watching the film, though, would be to arrange your own visit to Hyogo Prefecture and have a beer at Sannomiya's Half Time.