In Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) wanders the empty streets of New York City and begins to view life around him as it pertains to sex. Everything is sexualized, in fact, and viewers are left in a state of suspension: is this reality or is this dream? In Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Sound of the Mountain, the lead character, Ogata Shingo, is similar to the Bill Harford character in Eyes Wide Shut, save for instead of viewing the world sexually, Shingo views the life around him as it relates to death. As Shingo nears the end of his life, he continually hears the far rumble of the mountain, reminding him each time that death is approaching. And it is through this rumination on death that Shingo also ruminates about his life, including the number of personal relationship disappointments he has experienced.
Set in post World War II Japan, Shingo views his position as a husband and father according to the relationships around him — his married son is engaging in an affair, his daughter’s marriage is failing, and his wife is described as being “no beauty.” Immediately, Kawabata establishes the complexity of the relationships at hand by layering in both psychological and observational depth, which relieves the book from falling into the category of soap opera. It is interesting, because when I think of Kawabata’s novels, they remind me of a cross between the films of Ozu and those of Bergman. On surface level, many could read something like The Sound of the Mountain and dismiss it as “boring” or a novel where “nothing much happens.” And if one is looking for action-packed plot, then Kawabata would not be the novelist to pursue. Yet actually, much goes on in his novels — they are packed with subtlety and drama that on the surface could seem ordinary, but the fact that they are not, only makes them more interesting.