At the End of the Matinee – Book vs Movie Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X-E4, 27mm, f/5, 1/60 sec, ISO3200
“At the End of the Matinee” Cedar Park, 2021

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. 😀

Life (1982) – Book Review

Yu Lao’s Life is the story of Gao Jialin, a young man in his 20s who recently lost his job as a teacher and has to move back to his rural village and peasant life. From there, the story explores the relationship with his elders, his romantic relationship with the peasant girl Qiaozheng, and the city girl Yaping. Although he makes some big decisions that affect his personal life, Jialin’s (and everyone else) fortunes and future are greatly dependent on the government of 1980 China and the bureaucracies it creates. This social structure combined with family connections can give you advantages and also take them away, as we witness as the story plays out. Jialin deals with conflicting motivations and pressures that shift with his job situation, which take him between rural and city settings, and also between the groups of people who live in each.

Some things about the characters that resonated with me (SPOILER ALERT in the bullets):

  • Jialin’s spirit and talent even in the face of challenges. His conflicted feelings towards Qiaozhen versus Yaping were palpable, and the ultimate decision he made was certainly understandable, even if the results are somewhat heartbreaking.
  • Qioazhen’s pure heart and devotion. Even though she knows the limits that her illiteracy places on her, she takes the chance to spend her life with Jialin. I found Qiaozhen the most interesting and admirable person in Life.
  • Yaping’s prudent and opportunistic nature. She realizes her love for Jialin, and how he fits in with her future life. However, when situations change, she’s not afraid to re-evaluate.

I watched the movie version of Life / 人生 (1984) right after finishing the book, and believe that it’s best viewed as a support for the book. As a stand-alone movie, I don’t think it’s very good because events just seem to happen one after another, but you won’t know the motivations or the relationships between the people. It’s a classic case of the book having much more detail and insight than the movie. However, for me, the film added welcomed color to the book. As someone not familiar with the setting, it was great to see what the village looked like, as well as the city and the people. Lao describes the clothing they work, like the Dacron pants or patterns on Qiaozhen’s shirts and voila – there they are on the screen! Not only that, but the dialog in the movie was pretty much exactly like the book (the translations, at least). The scenes were like little visual depictions of the book’s chapters. I thought it was very helpful!

“Qiaozhen and Jialin”

I give the book my rating of 8.5, and the movie a rating of 7.

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Eleanor & Park (2012) – Book Review

I finished reading (audiobook) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I was captivated by this YA novel from beginning to end. Set in Omaha, Nebraska, it’s about two high school students’ relationship. The year is 1986, which was the year I graduated, so the references to popular culture were familiar to me. I normally am put off by too many references in books, but I enjoyed the ones in Eleanor & Park. Some were pretty obscure, like the Prefab Sprout t-shirt towards the end of the book, which I really appreciated. I feel like only a certain 80s subculture, like the one my friends and I were part of, would recognize many of the references. But others, such as Totino’s Party Pizzas (we used to eat them all the time!) are common but add a lot of context to the times.

The love story is a simple one but the details and characters were very interesting. Eleanor is a misfit, Park is half-Asian, Eleanor has a large family with an abusive stepfather, while Park’s lives in a typical household. While it’s mainly a teen romance, subjects of bullying, domestic abuse, inter-racial relationships, and racism are also talked about, but not too deeply, which is kind of a shame and I think a little bit of a missed opportunity. However, the pace of the story moves along nicely and maybe it was just the right amount of lightly touching on those heavy subjects.

One thing to note is that some of the East-Asian stereotypes can be a bit “cringey” and reading them left me a little uncomfortable, but if I think about the setting of the story, it kind of makes sense. I don’t know if the author was intentionally describing Park like that to point out the stereotyped mindset of the time, but she could have been clearer. And I have never heard of “Park” as a first name (it is a common Korean surname).

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that I thought it was excellent and I (unlike many other readers) was satisfied. That final chapter brought a big smile to my face and a little tear to my eye. 😊 Give it a read if you haven’t already!

Note: Book cover design by Olga Grlic and illustration by Harriet Russell

******** SPOILER ALERT *********

About the ending… it reminded me of the ending to Monsters Inc. It’s that same feeling.

By the way, I made a little sketch of Eleanor wearing Park’s Prefab Sprout t-shirt::

“Eleanor”