I finished Keiichiro Hirano’s novel At the End of the Matinee today. I thought it was excellent… in fact it had me awake until 1 am the other night, totally engrossed in what would happen between the two main characters, Makino and Yoko. But for this blog post, I wanted to compare it with the movie adaptation.
******** SPOILER ALERT *********
Simply put, this is a case of “the book is so much better than the movie”. But it’s because there is so much more in the book that could possibly but shown on-screen. First off, I’d say the book was one of the best I have read in a long time, whereas the movie was kind of “meh”. There’s so much internal dialogue in the book that would be impossible to bring to the big screen, including elements of PTSD, survivor’s guilt, as well as large episodes of how the long-distance romantic relationship between Makino and Yoko. In the movie, these are only quickly touched upon and make it seem like the two are jumping into their romance (and even breaking off engagements!) without much thought. There is a scene in the movie where Makino says he would kill himself if Yoko ever committed suicide. It happens so out of the blue (and makes Makino seem like the kind of person you should not be alone with), in just their second in-person meeting that it seems implausible for him to have those feelings. However, the book details in length their internal struggles and feelings, the conversations in their Skype calls, and the development of their the long-distance relationship that happens before that in-person episode even takes place. With that back-story, his declaration doesn’t seem so out-of-the blue. I would say that character/relationship development is the most interesting part of the book. I think it’s impossible to translate or convey that on the big screen.
One of the problems with reading the book and then watching the movie is that I can’t objectively watch the movie without thinking of the book. I know so much more about the characters and what is going on inside their heads and hearts, and that knowledge gives life to the on-screen performances. So I am only guessing that the movie version doesn’t work well on its own… but maybe it does? My viewing experience must be very different from those who only watch the movie, but is the same as those who have read the book.
Perhaps a better way to look at it is that the movie is a companion to the book, adding visual illustrations to “the real” story (ignoring some of the substitutions like Paris/Baghdad). In that sense, I am pretty satisfied with the casting of Masaharu Fukuyama and Yuriko Ishida in the main roles. They pretty much fit in with what my mind’s eye saw when reading the book, but the actors had an impossible task to show the characters’ depth and feeling in just a few scenes. The movie did attempt to convey the serious internal struggles of each by using some “intense” cutscenes but these were just unsatisfying and cliché. The scene in which Makino agonizes over Sanae’s betrayal was so terrible, it actually reminded me of the infamous Darth Vader “Nooooo!” scene.
But speaking of the book, I mentioned it was one of the best I have read in a long time. In fact, I gave it a 10 on my 2021 movie/book list! I was very interested in the story of two people in their 40s developing a romantic relationship and all the feelings that come along with it. The huge plot twist where Sanae puts a stop to the Makino and Yoko’s reunion in Tokyo was amazing. That was the part that kept me reading late into the night. I was expecting for the deception to be revealed quickly and the consequences to Sanae’s deplorable actions to be dealt out with conviction. But it didn’t happen that way at all. The plot took a much more satisfying and plausible turn. The two main characters continue with their separate lives, wondering why the other suddenly cut off the relationship. I guess this is where the 40-something-year-old’s life is different from a 20-something-year-old’s. Even Sanae’s deception was understandable. (Book version FTW!)
But throughout the years where Makin and Yoko continue with their separate lives (an the ups and downs), they often think back to each other and realize they still love each other, even though they have new families. So do they ever meet again? Well, you’ll just have to read the book or watch the movie to find out. And I would steer you towards the book version. 😀