A married man meets a young girl who works as an advertising model and studies pantomime. They meet sometimes and go out for meals and he enjoys talking to her. One day her father dies and she asks him to look after her cat while she travels to Africa.
When she returns, she has a new boyfriend in tow, a rich young man with a European sports car. The girl and the boyfriend turn up at his house with lunch one afternoon and, after a few drinks, the young man admits to enjoying burning barns, an admission that creates an obsession in the older man.
True to his style, the story is simple with many subtle complexities and ambiguities.
Burning – a film directed by Lee Chang-Dong
In the film, the main character, now called Jongsu, is no longer an older married man but a recent graduate with no money or parental support, trying to make his way as a writer. Making him younger, adds a coming of age element that is reminiscent of Murakami’s other work such as Norwegian Wood. The relationship between Jongsu and Hai-mae is more developed and her Americanised boyfriend Ben, now a Jongsu’s peer, becomes his rival.
The location of the story has moved from Tokyo to Seoul and Paju, the small town where Jongsu grew up. Barns are now greenhouses, more appropriate to the South Korean countryside, and propaganda messages can be heard coming over the border from North Korea. At one point there is news coverage of Trump talking about America in the background, making the film relevant and contemporary, while keeping and expanding on the important elements of the story and paying a lot of respect to Murakami.
Chang-Dong has taken the story and turned it into an unsettling and mysterious film that builds into a gripping thriller.
Beautifully shot and acted with a great soundtrack.