Time-travelling gets a new meaning with Kawaguchi and his tales. Of course, conditions apply.
Sit on a particular seat and a cup of coffee is going to transport you to the past or to the future. But yes, with conditions. Who is not intrigued with time travelling?
The question whether the past is appealing or the mysterious future is enigmatic has been highly disquisitive. The answer lies in the Café Funiculi Funicula.
The Osaka-born Japanese writer Toshikazu Kawaguchi is magically, yet realistically, transporting readers to the whirlwind of time-travelling where the universal truth of maintaining a cosmic balance and order has been insinuated through such a powerful narrative, that the reader is mesmerized with wonder as well as with longing.
All it takes is to notice a laid-back café with a non-noticeable sign, welcoming customers to the underground place.
The café seems to be sepia hued which is highly nostalgic and the non-air-conditioned space remains cool and humid-free, irrespective of the weather.
The café seems as though time has stood still at some point. Three antique clocks are there but only the middle one tells the exact time. The other two denotes a time zone that is non-existent and puzzling.
The predominant feature of most of the Japanese folk tales and myths is the prevalence of the ‘supernatural’ where the unbelievable is made believable. Ghosts and ghouls roam free among humans and many of the recent Japanese writings have dealt with themes that have got no answers.
‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold’ is one such work where Kawaguchi has exalted time-traveling in an entirely distinct way. Café Funiculi Funicula has created an urban legend where a cup of coffee will help you travel back or forth in time. But with some frustrating conditions or rules!
Follow the rules
One can travel and meet someone who has visited the café at least once. Secondly, only by sitting on a particular seat can transport one into the future or the past. But that seat is always occupied by a ‘woman in a dress’ who is actually a ghost.
She turned into a ghost by violating a cardinal rule of not finishing the coffee before it gets cold. She is always reading a book sitting on that seat and leaves it only once a day to use the toilet. Then only another person can time-travel sitting on that chair.
The next rule is, no matter what, the reality is unchangeable and catastrophes cannot be avoided or altered. While in the past or future, one cannot move away from the seat.
And the final condition is that the transporting coffee must be served by Kazu Tokita, who is the cousin of the café owner, Nagare; and she is the one who takes care of the café customers.
Both the books of this series are in the form of an anthology with four tales each and they have been woven in an alluring and enchanting way and an invisible thread of connection and continuity binds all the characters with the café itself.
The phantasmagorical Illusion
The highly unconventional way in which Kawaguchi has experimented and explored the crevices of human relationships is worth applauding. The possibility to relive the past or pre-enact a future action is highly exhilarating. The prologue to both these books is “what would you change” but each tale establishes the universal truth that life is a lot more than that.
Through a magical coffee shop, Kawaguchi has lucidly gyrated a phantasmagorical illusion where it is possible to ‘re-do’ your past mistakes or get a glimpse of the future. Even though the fact that the present or the reality being unchangeable is a spoiler, the characters pass through another dimension of time through the coffee steam and rekindle their most intimate actions and scenes.
The narration of the character’s backstories reveals a much larger picture where memories and human trauma are uncannily woven.
Time tripping is not something new to the genre of fiction. Right from H.G.Wells to Diana Gabaldon, they have all masterfully crafted this method to reinvent and refashion the realm of storytelling. What makes Kawaguchi outstanding is the technique through which he fabricated a mythical café in Tokyo where time-spinning is taken to yet another level with conditions and rules.
The time limit set aside for time-travelling is till the coffee is cold. That itself shows how transient is the past and the future.
Even the ringing of the door-bell “Clang-Dong” with the entry and exit of characters sounds the beginning or end of something precious.
Past decides present
Each tale is so unique that the element of having something “more” to life makes this anthology stand apart from the rest. Even though the characters and their names are a bit confusing, the overall premise of the tales is amazing and the rules are really simple.
Each tale makes one reflective of life with people transforming but nothing is changed and yet, maybe, everything does change for betterment.
It’s a beautiful narration of the complexity of the human heart and its feelings. The relief and the tear-filled smile that each tale gifts the readers are full of beauty and passion. It raises the question whether our past decides and dictates our present and future.
The year 2018 witnessed the visual adaptation of this work into a movie with the title Café Funiculi Funicula. The tales are a gentle reminder of how we carry our past with us and the risks that we take to go back, even if for a minute, to see our loved ones.
Over all, Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a heart-wrenching collection of tales that rekindle some pain and joy in readers.
The Tales from the Café ends with lines that echo Shelley’s “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
It just heralds the arrival of the imminent spring after every harsh winter, which is highly optimistic and life-providing.