Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go

It's odd how seemingly unrelated stuff we read or watch on screen, sometimes turns out have strong connection. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, on TV, we watched Remains of the Day. Then, last week, we saw Never Let Me Go - billed on our TV schedule as a movie with sci-fi elements (so one we pounced upon eagerly!) I didn't realise until later that the two movies were adaptations of books by the same author: Kazuo Ishiguro. With such very English themes : servants of the English aristocracy, and life in an exclusive English boarding school, finding the author to be Japanese-born was quite a surprise. However Kazuo Ishiguro had moved to Surrey, England with his parents at 5 years old, was educated there and has been a UK citizen since the 1980s.

Quick bio ~
He worked as a social worker in Strathclyde and as a grouse beater for the Queen Mother at Balmoral, before taking the University of East Anglia MA course in Creative Writing. He was awarded an OBE in 1995 and made a Chevalier dans L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1998.
His father was a world-renowned oceanographer, working for the British government.
His friends call him "Ish". He met his wife while they were both working for a homelessness charity in London.
In his teens, he was a singer-songwriter playing the folk circuit "and weird gigs in hockey clubs where drunk people hurled abuse at you". He busked in Paris, and performed at a music hall owned by Isadora Duncan's sister-in-law. He still owns several guitars.
On the face of it, storylines of the two movies and books have little in common other than their very English landscapes, so beautifully shot in both films. But on reflection, there is definitely a common deep, dark thread - one which possibly continues through all of Ishiguro's 6 novels?
Before looking at Ishiguro's natal chart, some brief comment about these two movies.

Remains of the Day was an award winning film with two superb leads : Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. As passing readers will probably recall, it's a tale of a butler and housekeeper to the English aristocracy in the early to mid-20th century. Their mutual respect, repressed emotional connection, and deep devotion to their master, with total acceptance of their station in life and its limitations and demands is at the heart of the tale. There had been a tragic loss though, one they don't fully acknowledge until it is too late, yet they still easily accept it, come the story's ending.

Never Let Me Go depicts a similar brand of acceptance of the situation in which the children, fast becoming young adults, find themselves. This time the setting is very different, and turns out to be the uncomfortably haunting core of the story. The three leading characters are played by talented young actors Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.

TV had the movie billed as science fiction. It's hardly that. It's not quite dystopian either - it's set in the past, from the 1950s to 1990s. I have to wonder why the author chose to set it in that time-span. Two threads dominate: a story of young love, unrequited until too late; along with an horrific speculative alternative history of our world. A discovery in the 1950s had meant that humans were able to live to at least 100 years old. I will not reveal more so's not to spoil the story for others.

There was something of an extended, and much better quality Twilight Zone flavour to Never Let Me Go. There were also definite echoes of an Ursula Le Guin short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, I've written about it before, HERE. (Basically the suffering of a small number in order to retain the happiness and lifestyles of the many.)

No review of the book or movie, I've read so far, expressed my own initial feeling about the story. As the movie ended I turned to my husband and said "that film contained more violence just beneath the surface than any overtly gory and violent movie you could mention". And, I keep asking myself why didn't at least a few of the young people attempt escape, once the awful truth had dawned upon them? The author's response (in interview) to a similar remark was "....the story is about nobility. People do not rebel in real life. Rather, they resign themselves to their fate, and so release feelings of hatred and unhappiness." I'm not sure that's altogether true for all people though. Are we all hard-wired for unquestioning acceptance? I don't believe so. Perhaps my own feelings stem from many books read in my young days on a favourite theme: characters escaping, or attempting to escape from prisoner of war camps during World War 2. As my husband points out, those prisoners were captured and had known freedom, the characters in these books and films had been "born into captivity".


Kazuo Ishiguro born in Nagasaki on 8 November 1954. No time of birth known, so 12 noon chart is shown. Rising sign and Moon degree will not be accurate.

Sun and Saturn conjoined in Scorpio - sign of deep dark secret passions. A fitting start reflecting this author's gravitation towards writing novels depicting secrets and hidden darknesses. Saturn so close to his Sun speaks of restriction, limitations - and though his own life may have held few of these, perhaps his genes carry the scars of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and his birthplace Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. His mother escaped, but who knows how such memories are carried in genes of offspring? Venus is also in Scorpio, adding to the emphasis on that signs' traits.

Another pair of conjoined planets sit nextdoor in Libra: Mercury and Neptune - no better combination for a novelist than Mercury the writer's planet and Neptune, planet of imagination and creativity, here they are together in Libra ruled by Venus, planet of the arts.

There's a third pair of conjoined planets in sensitive, intuitive Cancer: Jupiter and Uranus, these are in challenging square aspect to Neptune/Mercury in Libra. In regard to his writing style, perhaps this aspect could be translated as adding some unexpected - occasionally exaggeratedly so - twists to themes which might otherwise have emerged as more run-of-the-mill love stories. His Mars in Uranus-ruled Aquarius echoes this liking for the unexpected.

Aries Moon (Moon would have been in Aries whatever time he was born)- signifies a different side to his personality - a brighter and more open side - enthusiastic, impulsive, and considerably less brooding than those Scorpio planets (and his stories) indicate.


Wisewebwoman said...

T: That's the trouble with movies though, we never get (much) to explore the inner. I read both books and saw both movies even though KK irritates me mightily no matter what she's in. Huge elements of the books were missing.

I watched “When did you last see your father” last night based on a brilliant true story by Blake Morrison and it was also flawed, a key part of the story was the control the father had on the mother (changing her birth name, downgrading her medical degree) which had a huge impact on their children and this was never even addressed in the film.

On the whole, even though a film buff, I find films made of (good) books rarely ever match the original material and fall far short.

“Never Let Me Go” was a deep, thoughtful exploration on the values we place on our humanity.

I recommend another incredible book “The Unit” which explores a similar theme but is based on the value we place on elders. I do hope there is not a movie in the works to denigrate it.


Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ True. Even so, if a movie, however lacking when compared to the novel's detail gets us thinking, it can never be a bad thing.

For non-readers or comparatively infrequent fiction readers (like me) a movie is better than nothing, and occasionally spurs on the desire to read the book. I'm ploughing (very) slowly through "Dune" at present after seeing DVDs of mini-series and movie.

Anyway.... it was the link between the two stories featured in this post which I found fascinating. I might not have seen the link from reading the novels, far apart: the common "acceptance of station in life", acquiescence. Something which tends to go against my grain. that's possibly why it stood out for me.

I'm sure there are other very worthy aspects of both books, but that was the one I saw common to both.

Thanks for the recommendation - will look out for The Unit.