So… book completed. This was my first ever novel in Japanese, so I’m quite proud of finishing it without much difficulty. Grammar-wise I found it pretty straightforward, there were only a few sentences in the whole book that I had to reread carefully and try to breakdown in order to understand them properly. Tons of unknown vocabulary of course, but that was only to be expected given my level of previous exposure to Japanese content. Much of the vocabulary I later learned through Wanikani, so I’m sure people on higher levels had a much easier ride on that front too.
As for the book itself, well, it had its faults. The time travel aspect often felt insufficiently worked out, there were constant and annoying repetitions to the point that it felt disjointed, like it was written in parts and then hastily stitched together, and it was very low-key from beginning to end. I did care about the characters, but only vaguely, I was never really invested in any of them. At no point did I feel like I just couldn’t stop reading and absolutely had to know what happened next. And for a book with such a lot of repetition, I find it strange that there were aspects that were left unresolved. I’m afraid I’m not going to read the next books in the series to find out about them.
Looking forward to @Belthazar 's movie-book comparison…
Alrighty! Finished the book! Nice, and quite emotional, ending, though some answer as to whether Kei died in childbirth as predicted would have been nice for the closure.
As promised, my summary of book/film differences. Obviously, spoilers for the movie are here.
Kei is not in the movie - for the most part, her roles in scenes are taken by Kazu, but if Kazu needs to do something else, then Nagare takes the role instead.
A new character has been added as a love-interest for Kazu, and they get a story arc that continues throughout the whole movie.
The stories are set one per season - chapter one occurs in summer, chapter two in autumn, and so forth.
The cafe is larger than described here - there’s about six seats at the counter, and ten or so two-person tables on the floor.
The rules are listed in a different order, and the rule “you can’t leave the seat” has been changed to “you can’t leave the cafe”. The movie never specifies what happens if that rule is broken.
The three clocks explicitly symbolise past, present and future. Only the middle clock works in the present day - when a character travels to the past, the middle clock stops and the left-hand clock starts. And so forth.
The ghost doesn’t speak. The curse is activated by touching her (not by trying to move her) and is implied to feel like drowning (rather than increased gravity). The curse is lifted by taking your hand off the ghost.
Rather than time-travellers replacing the ghost as in the book, in the movie she gets up and goes to the bathroom just before a time-traveller arrives. Among other reasons, it gives the movie makers a visual way of showing the traveller is running out of time besides trying to show the temperature of the coffee onscreen - when the ghost starts walking back to the table, they’re about to run out.
The time travel effect resembles being dunked in a pool (rather than evaporating into steam, though the sequence does start with a close-up of the steam coming off the coffee). Rather than flashbacks ocurring during the time travel as in the book, the pictures on the wall behind come to life and show scenes that occurred in the cafe. (When Hirai time-travels, she brings swimming goggles and earplugs.)
Fumiko and Goro aren’t going out - rather, they’re more like childhood friends who made a classic “if we’re both still single when we’re thirty, let’s get married” type promise. Both believe the other forgot the promise. There’s no implication that she’s an upwardly-mobile type or that he’s a hard-working newbie type. Neither is he scarred.
Fumiko travels to America to follow Goro, rather than waiting for him to return.
Fusagi and Kotake switch roles - she has Alzheimers, and he’s the nurse. She starts using her maiden name because she forgot she was married.
It’s not particularly implied that the ghost must drink the coffee offered, instead they give her dry snacks to make her thirsty.
The scene where Kotake completely forgets Fusagi occurs when they’re at home, while she’s asleep in bed, which is a bit more disturbing for her.
Only minor differences for this one. Kazu keeps all of Kumi’s letters, not just the last one. Kumi comes to Tokyo by train rather than driving, and is hit by a car running a red light while crossing the road on the way to the station. There’s less implication that Hirai’s parents blame her (assuming they even did, rather than just being Hirai’s interpretation).
The book is unclear, but it seems Hirai time-travels while wearing her mourning clothes. In the movie, she does so on a different day - and in fact walks in wearing what appears to be the same jacket that Kumi wears when she enters in the past (symbolism!). They’re also shown smiling at Kazu before they leave (and saying しょうがないな～) in exactly the same way.
Hirai does actually warn Kumi not to go out on the day she gets killed, but Kumi doesn’t believe her, thinking it a prank.
The last segment of the movie is completely different to chapter four. Continue at your own risk.
If you're sure...
This story is about Kazu and her mother. When Kazu’s mother was six, she developed “unspecified protagonist’s mother” disease. Her father had already died.
With three months left to live, Kazu’s mother asked six-year-old Kazu to pour coffee for her in that seat, telling her she was going to meet her husband again. She never returned.
What I’m saying is, the ghost is Kazu’s mother.
The time-travel coffee is a power of the women of the Tokita family - as the only woman remaining, Kazu is therefore unable to follow her (because she can’t pour for herself).
As the story starts, Kazu realises she’s pregnant (from the movie-original love-interest character).
Love-interest devises a way for Kazu to time travel: gambling on the fact that their child might be a girl, he arranges for a message to be left for her “travel back in time to this specific date and time”.
At the pre-arranged time, she appears in the cafe. It’s Miki, though she makes a point of saying that it’s written 未来. She pours the coffee for Kazu, also telling her not to travel back to the last day Kazu saw her mother alive, but rather to Christmas Eve of that same year.
Turns out mother dearest lied - she didn’t travel back to see her husband, she travelled forwards to see Kazu. And I really wish this chapter was in the book so that I could rant about how utterly stupid it was for her to jump forward a mere six months, because what did she find? Not a six-year-old girl who had lost her mother to “disease” three months previously (which would have been bad enough), but rather a six-year-old girl who, from her point of view, had murdered her own mother six months previously. Six-year-old Kazu obviously didn’t understand why she had to say goodbye again, and prevented her mother from returning to the table to finish her coffee in time. See, travelling forwards ten years would have been a much better option - she would have been able to see a Kazu who would have had some time to come to terms with things, and sufficient emotional stability to not emotionally blackmail her.
After it’s already too late for mother to return, present-day Kazu turns up to get some closure, and then there’s a wistful “where are they now” type closing montage, which ends with a shot of the ghost’s chair standing empty, possibly implying that the ghost has been laid to rest? Maybe? Also, Kazu’s daughter gets born, and they name her 未来. The end.
As far as Kei is concerned, I thought it very annoying that they all acted - writer included- as if Kei dying was an absolute certainty, and that it was a straight choice between her or the child surviving. Real life doesn’t work like that. There was a slim chance they would both survive, and a bigger chance that they’d both die. Not to mention that pregnancies go wrong for all sorts of reasons all the time anyway. But yes, in the book universe there was never any doubt that Kei wouldn’t survive the birth, and Miki’s and Fumiko’s comments in the future seem to confirm this.
Some more random thoughts on the ending: I was glad to see Fumiko finally being useful. I disliked her character from the start, but she came in handy there at the end, giving the push mother and daughter needed to have that short meaningful talk. (Although I hated how everyone time traveled with an express purpose, then suddenly played coy and didn’t get to the point, as if they had all the time in the world). So funny that Fumiko and Goro seem to have given up their careers in order to work at the cafe. (Or were they just helping out Nagare and Kazu who had to be away?) I’d have liked some more explanation on that.
Thanks for the book/film comparison, it’s super interesting! It seems to me like some things were done better in the movie than in the book?
On movie vs book
I love that the clocks represented past present and future. In retrospect, it should have been obvious, but I got so used to the book spelling out everything again and again, that I somehow never paid attention to the things left unsaid. And why leave it unsaid anyway?
Fumiko following Goro to America sounds so much more natural. And yes, why did he even have that scar? (It was probably explained in the book but I forget.)
Kotake’s name change makes more sense in the movie version. It never quite made sense to me that she’d change her surname so as not to confuse her husband.
I love the revelation of the ghost’s identity. I remember briefly wondering about Kazu’s family - she only seemed to have Nagare. In the book I didn’t get any special vibe between Kazu and the ghost however. I wonder whether I missed it or it just wasn’t there. Kazu did treat the ghost like family, but more in the sense of someone always being there and taken for granted, not with any special affection or animosity, or any kind of feeling really.
The back and forth time travelling you described confused me a little but I think I got it. Interesting info about only the women being able to serve the time travelling coffee. Another thing I might have been able to guess had I been paying more attention. But she was always described as a temp helping out at the cafe during her studies. Oh well.
So the mother time travels to after her death to say goodbye to her daughter? What’s stopping her from saying goodbye before her death? Why not travel much further to the future to see how Kazu is doing?
Let me try and put the events in order. Little Kazu pours coffee for her sick mother. The sick mother disappears and then returns as a ghost (or doesn’t return at all for now?) They do disappear when they time travel, don’t they? So Kazu thinks she’s responsible for her mother disappearing/turning into a ghost. A few months later the mother appears, not as a ghost but as a time traveler, to talk to Kazu. Kazu stops her from going back, turning her into a ghost. But Kazu already knew she wouldn’t be back. Anyway, many years later, Kazu’s daughter comes from the future to help Kazu travel to …when? Back then, after 6-year old her saw her mother? I think I’m majorly confused.
Another thing that bothers me is that the ghost does interact with her environment. She reads, drinks, goes to the toilet, curses people, sometimes speaks, and in the book hints to Kei that the time travelling seat is available for her if she wants it. So what is stopping her from interacting with her own daughter in a more meaningful way?
The movie definitely inserts more moments between them. At the end of the second story, she’s shown sitting in the seat facing the ghost, gazing at her, and I think the fact that she’s her mother comes up during the third story.
Think she did travel forward to see how Kazu is doing, but why she decided on six months, I have no idea. Maybe she wanted to celebrate one more Christmas?
As for why not say goodbye in the present, she had definitely been intending to return. And Kazu is six, her mother is definitely still on the “your mother will get better in no time” white-lie stage of the plot arc.
Unclear. Love-interest is shown trying to record Fumiko’s trip on his phone (the movie is set in 2018-2019, so they all have smartphones), and he’s shown jumping in surprise when she returns, but we never see it from his point of view, the seat is never shown empty, and she returns in the same pose she was when she travelled. He does believe the urban legend is true after witnessing it, though.
Kazu is six at this point, had just gotten her mother back once more, was just short of hysterical, and was clearly not amenable to any sort of “you can’t change the past” logic. The ghost version of Kazu’s mother doesn’t appear at any point in that scene, so it’s not clear exactly what the procedure is - she out-stayed the coffee getting cold for long enough to have a conversation with Kazu, so at what point did she either become a ghost or return to the past as a ghost?
Yeah. It was Kazu’s intent to travel back to when she last saw her mother in her relative present, but Miki convinced her to meet her mother while time-travelling to Christmas Eve instead (presumably based on what Kazu will tell her in the future before she travels - “tell me I need to visit Christmas Eve, not August 31st” sort of thing). Present-day Kazu believed that seeing her mother on Christmas Eve had been a dream.
It feels more like reacting than interacting. It definitely gives me the impression she’s acting on autopilot.
I’d be quite interested to see the movie actually. I wonder where I could find it. Probably not easy.
That makes sense. Poor child, it must have been difficult for her even without all the confusing time travelling and ghost-mothers. It also must be extremely weird to constantly have your mother around throughout all your adult life, even if only as a ghost.
Very true, up until that point when she kept giving Kei meaningful looks and very purposely got up to go to the toilet at exactly the right time. It was the first time that it felt like she was clearly aware of (and interested in) what was going on around her.
I was interested in reading the book because I’d seen the movie. I saw it at the Japanese Film Festival here… last year, I think. It’s apparently available on Netflix in some regions, and you might possibly find it under the name “Cafe Funiculi Funicula” (that’s the official English title). Otherwise you may have to use… coughcough other methods.
It wasn’t super clear, but I gathered that Goro’s disfigurement was the reason he hasn’t asked Fumiko to marry him-- he never really believed Fumiko could love a scarred man, and he assumed rejection if he asked, so he didn’t ask.
I finally finished the book. I liked it OK, but I won’t be in a hurry to read the sequel. My biggest gripe at the moment is that no one let their coffee get cold. If the author describes how someone becomes a ghost, then aren’t they required by law to make someone become the ghost? Imagine if Kei had been like, you know what, I’m not going to finish my coffee, then I can be here and watch my kid grow up!
Absolutely. It seems this too, like other loose ends, has been left for the sequel(s). It would be very interesting to see how two or more ghosts, plus an occasional time traveler, could all share the same seat. That would probably involve a lot of long toilet trips.