Mildly, Franz Kafka’s short story A Country Doctor is a nightmare put into words. It defies all but the most basic of descriptions: a night call in the middle of winter brings the titular protagonist to a distant household. The atmosphere and imagery conjured in the process must be experienced first-hand to be understood. Perhaps the clearest summary available is that Kafka rarely, if ever, wrote something else as horrifying. One could not be faulted for thinking it impossible to reproduce this story in a visual medium: its sheer off-ness would be undermined by direct representation.
But this conventional wisdom was thrown to the wind in 2007, when Koji Yamamura adapted A Country Doctor into an animated short film. Yamamura is an underground director with a reputation for bizarre, experimental work; but nothing in his past—not even his Oscar-nominated Mt. Head—could have prepared viewers for this grotesque, phantasmagoric recreation of Kafka’s story. Characters grow, stretch and shrink; perspectives are inscrutable; mise en scène is distorted to the breaking point. Yet, by leveraging these and other techniques, Yamamura perfectly captures the unnameable mystery and terror of Kafka’s original. The film is a masterpiece on par with its source material.
Yamamura’s A Country Doctor, though, is also a strikingly literal interpretation. Although it is avant-garde, it displays none of the subtle one-upmanship that characterizes so many adaptations of fiction. Yamamura is not interested in loosely “capturing the essence” of the story, nor in offering his “take” on the material. He wants nothing less than to bring Kafka’s A Country Doctor to the screen. So, while the short film does contain minor details absent from the short story, Yamamura uses all of them to convey in a visual medium what Kafka achieved with the written word. In short, this writer cannot imagine a better adaptation. The reader may find a subtitled version of the film—which comes with our highest recommendation—after the break.