Not that I have heard anything else of Japanese music, but since the time I watched In the Mood for Love, Yumeji’s theme has been etched in my mind. It is this beautiful set of gentle, pleasantly melancholic pizzicato notes of violin, that make you want to sit in silence with closed eyes or stand up and swing to a slow waltz, depending on which end of the melancholia you are wavering, the deep reminiscing or the sweet heartwarming. I keep going to the piece on and off. So it could be but a mere mind game that I could hear it so clearly in the background even when not specifically playing it, when I read Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase or as it goes by its other name “Strange Weather in Tokyo”.
The book is a very tender tale that tells us about a 30+ Tsukiko, a working, independent, forlorn woman and her sentimental affair with a 60+ Sensei, her professor from school. It is a series of anecdotes and vignettes that make for a charming compilation of the lonely lives of both the people. A few more people come and go but the reader’s moments of solace are the comfortable ones spent with these two. The language is smooth. It writes of mundane stuff like food with its teas and wines and beers and sakés with its various ways of pouring, and daikon, tsumire, beef tendons, sunflower seeds, Chikuwabu, konnyaku noodles, oden, hanpen and kombu (I religiously searched all the dishes to find out how they look and must taste), and then at other times it switches uncertainly to changing weather, random boxes, waves of the sea, cherry trees, poisoned mushrooms, spreading calm and quiet as it moves about its way. The reader almost knows the inevitable climax, but the journey is soothing. There are moments of surreal magical realism that lend it a mysterious tone, and yet it doesn’t mull too much on it. It moves on to simpler places, less complicated places. Sensei might remind you of our good old Ove, except he is a bit more relaxed in his way than Ove ever was. Tsukiko will probably remind you of yourself if you are an adult struggling really hard to make sense of things you feel or do not feel. And they both might not make you fuzzy because the romance is not hyped anywhere, but it is just this tranquility that defines moments of it. Sample this –
“At first, Sensei had been a distant stranger. An old, unfamiliar man who in the faraway beyond had been a high school teacher of mine. Even once we began chatting now and then, I still barely ever looked at his face. He was just an abstract presence, quietly drinking his saké in the seat next to mine at the counter. It was only his voice that I remembered from the beginning. He had a resonant voice with a somewhat high timbre, but it was rich with overtones. A voice that emanated from the boundless presence by my side at the counter. At some point, sitting beside Sensei, I began to notice the heat that radiated from his body. Through his starched shirt, there came a sense of Sensei. A feeling of nostalgia. This sense of Sensei retained the shape of him. It was dignified, yet tender, like Sensei. Even now, I could never quite get a hold on this sense—I would try to capture it, but the sense escaped me. Just when I thought it was gone, though, it would cozy back up to me.”
It’s just nice to come across a story like this once in a while.