Le Carre's spy classic hits big screen in Japan

by Richard Sunley


Set in 1970s Britain, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which will be released in cinemas in Japan later this month, is based on the book of the same name by John le Carre centering on George Smiley, a retired spy who is called back by the British intelligence service to uncover a Russian mole.

The story begins with a failed mission in Hungary that prompts the search for the mole. The intelligence service — code-named the Circus — becomes engulfed in paranoia as the investigation into the activities of the five suspected double agents intensifies.

In an interview with Kyodo News in London, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, 47, described the film as “not so much about the political sides of the Cold War but more about personal things.”

“We have taken a sort of very emotional take on the book,” he said.

When the opportunity first arose to take on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Alfredson sensed it was something he wanted to be involved with.

“I usually trust my body, if I react in a physical way,” he explained. “If I shiver, or if I get bored, or if I laugh or cry.”

For “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” that feeling was paranoia.

“If you want to you can see an enemy anywhere,” Alfredson said. “You can read in paranoia into anything and that feeling is very physical.”

The movie, like the book, is complex, as the stories behind the characters are released piece by piece, shifting back and forth between past and present.

Each suspect appears to have motives for treachery, yet no clear culprit emerges, with each suffering from the effects of the unrelenting pressure that the intelligence service places on their lives.

This complexity is an aspect of the book that Alfredson tried to stay faithful to without overcomplicating the movie.

“If you compare the book with the film I wouldn’t say the film is dumbed down,” he said. “It is simplified and we have sort of made choices and we have cut out a fillet.”

The movie, which performed well in Britain and the U.S., won two 2012 BAFTA awards — Britain’s equivalent of the Academy Awards — including outstanding British film, and received three Oscar nominations, including for best actor for Gary Oldman, who plays Smiley.

The movie also stars Colin Firth, winner of last year’s Oscar for best actor.

Alfredson, whose previous work has largely been within the Swedish film and television industry, admitted that it was somewhat daunting working with such a stellar cast.

“When you sit there in your office two months before and you imagine yourself being the director of these fine actors (you think) what the hell am I going to say and who am I to do this and that? But when you actually stand there you sort of forget about it after 10 minutes,” he said.

As befitting the gloom and paranoia that pervade the movie, there are few if any explosions or fast-paced action sequences. Rather, the key element is the characters, who Alfredson describes as “the soldiers of the Cold War,” their loneliness and the sacrifices they make for their country.

It is this emotional aspect of the book that Alfredson wished to emphasize and his message to Japanese audiences is not to get too caught up in the complexities of the story.

“Take your time, trust the film and don’t think too much while seeing it!” he said.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” with the Japanese title “Uragiri no Saakasu,” comes out April 21.