Kazuo Ishiguro: “We need the monarchy because we need symbols that unite us”

There are rhythms and rhythms. At a film festival like the one in San Sebastián, in which the promotions of the various films overlap and the interviews are juxtaposed, the appearance of a Nobel Prize winner for Literature with an exquisite education, complex thought and slow speech gives a fresh air to the San Sebastian tomorrow. It is the morning of the British Kazuo Ishiguro, and in the suite room where he conducts the interviews it seems that time moves slowly.

When Ishiguro (Nagasaki, 67 years old) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, his talent and fame had gone beyond the world of letters and reached the audiovisual world: Kazuo has written scripts for television films, movies and series and has seen his films adapted on screen. novels The artist of the floating world, What remains of the day Y Never leave me. In Living room —which is being screened these days in San Sebastian and will premiere in Spain in February 2023— the carambola is for many more bands: it has taken Live (Ikiru), akira kurosawa movie which the director himself considered his best work, and which in turn is loosely based on The death of Ivan Ilyich, of Tolstoy, and has transferred the plot to London in 1952. It is there that an old city council official will discover that he suffers from terminal stomach cancer, after a life withered and crushed by his service to the bureaucracy, and before that leaden gray of his existence will dedicate the remaining half year to a mission. “I’ve done more things,” jokes the screenwriter raising his hands.

The interview takes place the day after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. What does Ishiguro think of her and in general of the monarchy? “Um. We Brits are currently very divided. Not as much as in the US, but there are two sides, and it shows how issues such as Brexit or independence tensions in Scotland or Northern Ireland are faced. I had never experienced a division like this, and many of us feel uncomfortable in the face of these confrontations. Brexit brought us to a higher echelon of confrontation, friends against friends. I’m not talking about being right or wrong, but that it would be worth considering the nation we want to be. And in times like this, with the economic crisis, the invasion of Ukraine, with a divided United States, people need the monarchy, because we need symbols that unite us. That they are above parties. To do this, as a symbol, whether it makes sense or not, the monarchy works very well. And the funeral has confirmed it. Many of us appreciated Isabel II, and we would like the union of these days to continue. And the future? “Ah, that’s it… It’s clear that the royal family has this role, and may or may not fulfill it. Something similar happens in other countries: it is an institution that brings together, even in Japan. Stabilize”.

Passion for Kurosawa

Speaking of Japan. Ishiguro has always been passionate about Kurosawa, despite the fact that he, he confesses, speaks poor Japanese: he has lived in the UK since he was five years old. “I was wondering if To live It would make sense in another world. I didn’t even know that Kurosawa, who otherwise usually draws inspiration from European literature, had used a Tolstoy work until it was released Living room at the Venice festival. I think he would have approved of this courtesy to London. It is that Kurosawa has been versioned since the spaghetti westerns up StarWars. I love those movies The train from hell. But there was also a further impulse: the writer is attracted to post-war British cinema, which left a handful of masterpieces “by people like Emeric Pressburger, Alfred Hitchcock and his last English works, Anthony Asquid with way to the stars, Carol Reed with The fallen idol… Ishiguro goes into detail: “In my student years, To live it was very important to me. And not because of my Japanese origins, but because I felt that it spoke to our generation, that it pointed out the vital mistakes in which we could fall. For decades I thought I’d like to see a Western movie based on To live, Although I never thought I would do it. And when I received a proposal from the producer, I decided to marry his powerful central idea with the reflection of what it means to be English, what intrinsically English values ​​this gentleman”. And what better than to take her to her passion for British cinema from the very period in which it takes place To live. The beginning of the film certifies this homage to an era and a form. I’m not saying they were all masterpieces [risas], but I like them. And that style has vanished.”

In reality, Ishiguro suggests, what has disappeared is English confidence “not only in the cinema, but generally”. He gives an example: “If you look at the character of Michael Redgrave in Alarm on the express, he has a self-confidence that we have not seen since. Today’s British heroes follow in the footsteps of the Americans. Michael Caine or Sean Connery They are already a change from Redgrave.”

When it was announced that he had won the Nobel, the Swedish Academy argued that the author knew how to turn the great concerns of humanity into questions as essential as they were simple. And that is so much in To live like in Living room. “It is that my fascination for the reflection on the English enters into something more general. It is a kind of metaphor, of something that is in the human being. maybe in what’s left of the day It seems more exaggerated, but I insist, it is in anyone. It is the fear of emotions and that they become the governing force in life… It is true stoicism and humor in the face of misadventures. It is the sense of duty, that although you are a tiny person immersed in a powerful nation you try to bring dignity to your country… The stereotype of the English gentleman harbors notions of all humanity. And you discover it by observing, for example, the characters of John Ford. I think desert centaurs even today he challenges us to the face”, he details.

Ishiguro himself brings the subject of literature and film into the conversation. “Now that we’re with John Ford and what he’s up to… That’s a great example of how cinema works as art, because any viewer can identify with what he sees.” Has he learned more being a screenwriter or seeing how others have adapted him? “I am still learning. And I keep getting lots of offers to write or to sell my rights. I don’t like generalizations, but I’m going to get into one. The cinema fails to build passages grounded in memory, or move you to the mind of the protagonist. It’s much easier for a book to play around with that narrative artifact. In turn, it is very difficult for a film to develop in a flash-back with the same fluidity as a novel. They have only succeeded, for example, Mirror, by Andrei Tarkovsky either distant voices, by Terence Davis. And it is a problem. I continue to generalize: cinema does better when it narrates an action before the viewer’s eyes and uses the rest of its weapons: a room, music…”.

After the interview, while posing for the photo, Ishiguro says that he has known Carlos III for decades, because he was not only the one who named him a Knight, but they have collaborated in various charitable causes. “Especially focused on education, in public schools,” he explains. And how does he see it? In his slow tone, and smiling, he replies: “We will have to see.”

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Kazuo Ishiguro: “We need the monarchy because we need symbols that unite us”