The Oscar-nominated filmmaker (1994 Best Foreign Language Film nominee for The Scent of Green Papaya) first read Haruki Murakami’s bestselling novel in 1994 and became convinced it would make a great film.
“I liked the idea of first love and that Watanabe, as soon as he encounters first love, loses it,” he says.
“It was a strong idea because there is an element of danger when you fall in love for the first time.”
The tricky part was getting permission from the notoriously prickly author.
“Every time I went to Japan I tried to talk to someone about adapting it,” Tran said, “but no one would talk to me. It turned out that Murakami wouldn’t allow adaptations of his books.”
Years later Tran discovered the author had given permission for a film to be made from Tony Takitani, one of his short stories. Emboldened by the news Tran wrote a letter to the author asking for a meeting.
His request was granted, but he first had to meet with Murakami’s advisors in Tokyo. All 12of them.
After two days of grilling — “They asked all kinds of questions,” he says — an audience with the author was granted and the permission he sought was also given, with a few conditions.
“It was clear he was giving it to me, not the producers,” Trans says, adding, “He also wanted to read and approve the script and asked for the budget amount.”
Next came the painstaking adaptation process.
“We communicated in English. I wrote the script in French, translated it into English for Murakami and Japanese for the producer.”
Going back and forth they formed the Japanese language script into the film playing in theatres this week, a loose adaptation that maintains the integrity of the novel but is painted with the director’s personal touches.
“A good adaptation is not just about adapting the story,” he says. “I couldn’t do that. For me it’s about adapting the feelings, complications and emotions. If someone else had adapted this book they would make it differently.
“That’s why it is really personal for me.”