Burning ★★★★

Pure Murakami, through and through: the languid, affable protagonist wrestling with some inner turmoil, the loud, eccentric love interest, the jazz, the cats, the emphasis on minutia and the bending of the mundane. It's hugely enjoyable in novel format (I haven't read the short story Burning is based on, but I'm a Murakami nut), but it's still a struggle to realize it onscreen, especially without the internal monologue that allows us to connect to these characters in their literary form. We are ultimately very detached from our protagonist in Burning - even if we can discern what they're feeling, and how that influences the thematic makeup of the film, we can't get inside their head and feel in the way that Murakami allows us to.

That doesn't make the film any less impressive, however, even if it does sacrifice the emotional core of Haruki's work. Lee Chang-Dong doubles down on the unnerving underbelly of the worlds this famed author creates, punctuating the story with a truly sinister, otherworldly feel that unsettles just as much as it intrigues....it bored me so compellingly that I feel drained and fulfilled all at the same time. By taking us outside the character's heads like this, we really get a chance to focus on the richness of the ideas that surface in this film. Some of these bubble away into the ether, some come full circle, and others are simply left there to tease, with no resolution at all. It's a real hotpot of slippery identities, recurring patterns in human behavior enforced and encouraged by class divisions, and the stories that we tell ourselves to affirm our most primal urges and insecurities.

With all this quietly simmering away at once, Lee Chang-Dong's decision to remain distant in those final moments of boiling over only pushes the film further into the realms of unreachability, confirming the notion that these are not real humans, we're seeing, but vessels of envy and power - those two bedfellows that may pretend to hate each other, but rely on one another for their own existence. If Burning has achieved anything, it's exposing the volatile nature of the worlds that Murakami creates, highlighting the lengths we are willing to push ourselves to in order to affirm our existence in the world. In the end, Yoo and Ben are one and the same, despite being drawn to each other based entirely on their hatred of what makes them different. Haemi is a red herring; a means through which Yoo can connect to his all-consuming envy to be someone else, and Ben's literal absorption of the two, feeding off this hunger. They're made for one another, and they won't be the first.

Also: the sunset dance sequence, and the conversation that follows as the light slips away? Exquisite. The purest distillation of a Murakami dream sequence that we're ever likely to see on the screen. It's just a shame that we can't connect to these characters, and the fog of mystery that envelops them all. After that sunset, the world is changed, and we can't recognise the people in it - we can only get lost in the fog with them.