I am not a big fan of novelisations in general, but I have always thought that they could be a great resource to start reading novels in Japanese. I have decided to test this idea myself by reading 『君の名は。』 and 『そして父になる』 while watching the movie (progressing scene by scene).
What I learned from this experience is that novelisations are not necessarily easy to read, but they can be a valuable tool if you don’t feel confident enough to read a novel on your own.
The novelisation of 『君の名は。』 is staying very close to the film, and while it was more difficult than I expected, it can be a good way to practise reading if you adapt your strategy to your level. The novelisation of 『そして父になる』 is more elaborate with many added scenes and dialogues, making it a great practice for intermediate readers.
For each book, I will first write a short review and then discuss how you can use them to practise reading.
『君の名は。』by Makoto Shinkai (新海誠)
Title: 『君の名は。』 (きみのなは。) Your Name.
Director: Makoto SHINKAI (新海誠)
Author: Makoto SHINKAI (新海誠)
Published by 角川文庫
Mitsuha (三葉) who lives in the countryside and Taki (瀧) who lives in Tokyo start to sporadically wake up in each other’s body…
One particularity of 『君の名は。』 is that the novelisation was written by the director himself, Makoto Shinkai.
My previous experiences with novelisations have not been great (for example, I did not enjoy reading 『日本沈没２０２０』), so I did not have big expectations for 『君の名は。』. However, it turned out to be better than I expected.
As the director says in the afterword, he finished writing this book before the film was actually completed, and this is why you sometimes read that the film is an adaptation of the book. However, the director has clearly written 『君の名は。』 with the film in mind. To me, it is clearly a novelisation of a film in the making, rather than an original work.
As a consequence, the book does not add much to the film, and you will not learn anything new by reading it. Visual effects being completely lost, many of the scenes that were striking in the film, tend to lose their impact once in paper. Much of the humour is lost too. As the director says himself in the afterword, 『君の名は。』 is better on screen:
Here are some examples showing that the descriptions of the book, while okay, cannot convey the full impact of their respective scenes in the film (in my opinion).
When I was reading the book, I was constantly asking myself how much I would have appreciated the scenery, characters and action if I hadn’t had seen the film prior to reading the novelisation. I felt that most of the descriptions in the book were relatively pale in comparison to what the film delivers, so I’m not sure that you can appreciate all the strength, humour and emotional impact of the story by reading the book alone.
However, the director also gave his characters some consistence by adding inner thoughts and some introspection, so overall, the book is not disagreeable to read.
To conclude, I would never recommend the novel over the film, and overall, I don’t recommend reading the novelisation if your goal is to learn more about the story or to approach the story from a new angle. However, if your goal is to improve your reading skills by practising, then yes, I think that 『君の名は。』 is a good choice, especially if you love the story and the film.
If you want to read a more thorough review of the novelisation with indications concerning the Japanese level required to read it, I recommend going to Kuri’s website: Japanese book club cafe.
Reading practice 『君の名は。』
I guess that Japanese learners might tend to choose 『君の名は。』 as a first novel, thinking that it would be easy to read. Personally, I don’t find this novel particularly easy to read, and it is certainly not the easiest book I have read in Japanese. Some parts are okay but some descriptions are challenging. If you have tried to read 『君の名は。』 and found it difficult, it’s normal. If you have given up thinking that your level is too low, please don’t give up reading altogether and just try another book!
As I said in the review, the film was not completed when the book came out, therefore, there are some differences between the two. Some dialogues do not fit exactly, sometimes the book having more, sometimes the film having more, but overall, it is very easy to follow scene by scene what is on screen and what is on paper, it almost feels like reading the script of the film.
There are different ways you can use a novelisation to help you read in Japanese. Don’t think that you have to read the book the same way from the first to the last page. You can change your strategy as you progress in the book.
If you have never read a book before and are a complete beginner in terms of reading, I recommend to read only the dialogues to start with. You can either watch the film in parallel, progressing scene by scene, or just read the book if you have a good knowledge of the story.
When you feel a little more confident, you can start reading the narrative parts that directly surround the dialogues. They usually give indications concerning how the characters speak, what tone they use, what facial expression they make and so on.
Reading the novelisation and watching the film at the same time can also be a good way to start reading more complex descriptions, if you are at an intermediate/advanced level or if you tend to struggle with descriptive passages. For example, this is how Mitsuha’s village is described:
This description appears very early in the novel, and is quite difficult to read. If you think that you have to understand everything when reading or if you look up every unknown word, this passage is likely to make you think that your level is not good enough to read this book. As I explain in another post, I believe that you must not let descriptions of this sort discourage you. As long as you understand that the author is describing the scenery, you can move on (even if mountains, water, blue sky and white clouds are all you understood).
The good thing with novelisations, is that skipping the whole paragraph is not a problem. If you are able to associate the description with the right passage in the film, you can put aside the whole paragraph and still follow the story. If you want, however, you can also use the film to practise reading this kind of depictions. Try to match unknown words with what you see on screen without looking up words. You are likely to realise that you understand more than you thought at first.
If you want to increase your vocabulary and use the book for a good study session, you can also thoroughly go through a passage like this one. If you learn vocabulary this way, you are more likely to remember it as you are actually seeing what this word stands for and will be able to associate it with a particular scene of the film when reviewing it.
Another example of challenging passage is the description of Tokyo from Taki’s appartment:
These two descriptions can be rather difficult depending on your level, but the rest of the novel is overall much easier, especially the dialogues. This is why I think that 『君の名は。』 can be used at different levels to improve your reading.
Again, you don’t need to read the whole book the same way. You can just read the dialogues for the first 50 pages or so while watching the movie, then slowly expand what you read by reading everything that surrounds the dialogues but keep skipping the descriptive parts or any long block of text that looks too difficult. Towards the end of the book though, you will certainly feel that your reading level has already improved and you might want to challenge yourself by trying to read everything.
To conclude, I would not recommend 『君の名は。』 as an easy book for beginners if your goal is to just read a novel. But if you use it to practise reading by personalising the way you read it, then I am sure it can help you make huge progress.
『そして父になる』by Akira Sano (佐野晶)
Title: 『そして父になる』(そしてちちになる) Like Father, Like Son
Director: Hirokazu KORE-EDA (是枝裕和)
Author: Akira SANO (佐野晶)
Published by 宝島社
Ryota (良多) and Midori (みどり) Nonomiya (野々宮) suddenly learn that their six-year-old son Keita (慶多) is not their biological son. Keita and another boy Ryusei (琉晴) have been switched at birth. The Nonomiyas meet with Ryusei’s parents Yukari (ゆかり) and Yudai (雄大) Saiki (斎木) and discussions to exchange their children begin.
Reading the novelisation of 『そして父になる』 by Akira Sano has been a shock to me. I thought that novelisations were bound to be a boring copy of the original film, but this one is excellent and does not feel like a novelisation at all. The author has added a lot of information that was not explicitly present in the film. All these elements add value to the novelisation and it feels like reading an original work, not an adaptation.
If you have enjoyed the film and are afraid that the author has departed too much from the movie, don’t worry. It never feels like the book is adding random information, but rather the other way around, that the film has suppressed elements that should have been there. In other words, you get the impression that everything described in the novel was there initially but had been cut from the film for duration purposes.
Here are some expamples of added elements that give more consistence to the characters and make the reader feel close to them:
The book does not only describe Keita’s amazement when eating for the first time by the Saikis, it also explains why: 慶多は呆気に取られていた。家では自分が食べる分を皿に取り分けてもらっているのだった。(p.123)
By adding Midori’s thoughts when she is watching Keita eating, the book gives more depth to the character and makes it easy to identify with her: その顔を見ながらみどりは、この味を忘れないで、と思った。ゆかりさんの唐揚げも、どんな高級店の味も、ママの作ってくれた唐揚げには敵わないって思ってほしい。(p.241)
In this scene, it is easy to guess Midori’s feelings, but the book adds it explicitly, making it possible to enjoy the story by reading the book alone: みどりはマフラーを編み続けていたが、次第にその手さばきが遅くなっていた。疲れていたのではない。琉晴の存在が慶多を否が応でも思い出させた。(p.145)
Reading the book made me feel much closer to Midori than I would have felt had I watched the film only. In this case the author adds something that is not suggested in the film, but I feel that it is exactly what Midori is thinking at that moment: ただ同時にみどりは少し心が軽くなるのを感じていた。斎木家と決定的な仲遠いをしてしまえば、交換という話そのものが消滅して…。(p.179)
Generally speaking, the book always tells us what and how the characters are thinking. Each scene is longer in the book than in the film with added dialogues, inner thoughts and emotions, that are all in accordance with what the characters are.
The author also filled the blank between two scenes. A film can jump from one scene to the other without problems, but if a book does that, it might end up with a broken narration. I find that Akira Sano did a great job at connecting the different scenes, even adding which day of the week we currently are, making the reading much smoother. It also gives information the film only suggests like episodes of the characters’ past, how they met and how they feel towards each other.
I find that the film leaves a lot of space to interpretation, with a lot of things that are hinted at but not said. To be honest, without the book, I would have missed a lot of the subtleties present in the film.
Overall, this is an excellent novelisation that I heartily recommend if you have watched the movie and want to read an adaptation. You will learn more about the characters and maybe understand things that you might have missed while watching the film. I also recommend the novel in itself if, for some reason, you are not interested in watching the movie. Personally, I have watched the film for the first time while reading the book, and all the elements added by the author greatly improved the way I experienced the story.
Reading practice with 『そして父になる』
While I found 『そして父になる』 overall easier to read than 『君の名は。』, I also think that it is less appropriate for beginners who want to get into reading books in Japanese. The strategy of reading only dialogues will not work here because the book adds too much information compared to the film, so it will be difficult to make the connection between the two if you are not already comfortable with reading in Japanese.
However, this book is perfect for intermediate readers who can read in Japanese but do not feel confident in reading an entire novel without help. The book is a mix of added parts where you are on your own, and parts that are very close to the film, allowing you to reconnect if needed and gain confidence.
For example, this is how the book describes the shopping center where the two families meet for the second time (p. 81)
The book adds context and link one episode to another by telling the reader what happened between two scenes (we don’t see Midori calling the Saikis in the film). It also adds a time landmark with 翌日, which makes the reading much smoother and natural. The underlined sentence allows you to link this passage with the film.
The book adds information here that is not in the film. It emphasises the gap between the two families: Midori would have thought the private room of a restaurant the natural choice for this kind of meeting, but Yukari casually suggests the snack corner of a shopping center.
The underlined part is what we see on screen, but the rest is added by the author. Here again, it adds relevant information that makes the book feel like a novel rather than a novelisation.
Finally, this part is the description of what we see on screen, but with added details that makes the whole depiction more concrete. It does not look like the author is describing what appears on the screen (a feeling that I constantly had when reading the novelisation of 『日本沈没２０２０』), but rather, that he describes the shopping mall of Maebashi.
This extract shows you how the book follows the film while adding things that are not explicitly present in the film. When reading, you constantly go back and forth between passages that you have to understand on your own and passages that reconnect with the film.
The book sometimes adds entire passages that are not in the film at all, but they are short and are often used to fill the blank between two scenes or give the feeling that a whole day has elapsed instead of just a couple of short episodes. What is great is that even if you stumble across a passage that is hard for you to understand, you know that the book will eventually reconnect with the film, so you can skip these passages without fear of losing track of what happens.
I recommend using novelisations to get into reading books in Japanese if you don’t feel confident enough to jump into a complete unknown story. You can also use novelisations to start reading in Japanese very soon either by reading only the dialogues or by trying to link together what you read and what you see on screen, guessing the meaning of words, associating vocabulary with concrete objects and so on. If your level is good enough to let you read dialogues without problems but if you struggle with long descriptions with metaphors and difficult vocabulary, novelisations can help you there too. In summary, they can be used at different levels with different purposes.
However, keep in mind that novelisations are not necessarily easy to read, especially if the original film contains a lot of striking sceneries or action that the author needs to describe. Don’t get disheartened if you feel that your book is too difficult, just use it smartly and find your own personal ways of practising with it. (Maybe I’ll try other novelisations in the future to find easier ones.)
Note: I personally found 『そして父になる』easier to read than 『君の名は。』, and 『君の名は。』 easier to read than 『日本沈没２０２０』. I think that the perception we have of a book’s difficulty differs depending on what we are used to reading, our reading tastes and our interest in the story. In novels, I prefer realistic, everyday life settings over fantasy or SF works, so this might explain my ranking.