Book: Before the Coffee Gets Cold Audiobook


Before the Coffee Gets Cold Audiobook

Japanese Book Title

コーヒーが冷めないうちに Audiobook Unabridged
[Kohi Ga Samenai Uchi Ni Audiobook Unabridged]


Toshikazu Kawaguchi


Audible Studios
7 hours 7 minutes





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Recently I read Before the Coffee Gets Cold in Japanese and did a review for the site, followed by a review for the movie version. Well, now I am going to write up a few additional words about the audio book version, as recently I have been listening to audio books in Japanese as part of my studies, and I find the experience extremely rewarding. As with audio books in English, you can get a wide variety of narrators with a spread of talents and vocal performance (some of my favorites so far include the Japanese version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Mikito Chinen’s The Glass Tower Murder—and the Harry Potter series is delightful, too). As far as today’s subject goes, I thought the audio version of Before the Coffee Gets Cold was very strong, done by a professional voice actor, very easy to listen to, with clear pronunciation and an engaging performance.

The story, of course, is the same as the novel and (for the most part) the movie. If you didn’t read those reviews, though, here is a quick recap.

Café Funiculi Funicula is a curious coffee shop that could easily be overlooked in the numberless cafes of Japan except for one thing: If you visit this café, you can travel through time. Now, to actually take advantage of the time traveling bit, you have to swallow a lot of rules first. Basically, if you sit in a particular seat (when it’s vacated by the grumpy corporeal ghost who usually sits there), you can choose a time you want to travel to and drink some magic coffee and zap to initiate your chrono-trip. While on the other side, you can only stay until the coffee cools, at which point you need to guzzle the rest of that java or die. Also, you can’t meaningfully change anything, you can’t leave your seat, you can only go once, and etc. The novel follows four stories (they intertwine a little)—a burgeoning romance, an aging married couple, a pair of sisters, and a mother and child. Each story tickles out misunderstandings amongst the often-tragic main characters and their relationships, and each story also reveals new wrinkles in the magic time travel mechanic as well. Note that the tales really reach for the waterworks; get ready to cry if you’re prone to tearing up over melodrama!

Obviously, I don’t need to rehash all my thoughts concerning the novel here, though I do want to highlight a few things that occurred to me on listening to the novel after carefully reading through the text version. When I read the novel initially, I was going through the thing slowly—I read the book as part of a book club that met once a week or so, and thus our schedule was set to a certain number of pages during each seven-day period. Because of that schedule, I didn’t read the book quickly, and I began forgetting character names and some of the emotional weight of the stories likely dissipated due to my often-poor reading habits (say, for example, by putting off reading the 20-30 pages until the day before our meeting). By contrast, when I listened to the novel, I burned through the thing—I didn’t have to stop and check kanji, I didn’t have to puzzle over the grammar, I just listened through the seven hours and seven minutes while walking to and from work or taking a jaunty trek to the beach or while doing chores at home, and it was just DONE in about a week. I noticed more how the characters from the episodic tales interacted across episodes on this go around, and the emotions came through better, and certain aspects such as the mystical-java-wielding Kazu and her extreme placidity (which I complained about in my movie review) stuck out to me as completely intentional from the start as an integral part of her character. The older sister in the third story, who irritated me in the movie, irritated me in the book, too, as her selfishness and callous treatment of her family is a bit striking. The ending, too, worked better for me this time—somehow when rushing through the book, the ending and its pretty little bow message felt so much more satisfying as all the emotions coalesced into a beautiful crescendo.

A big part of that satisfaction can be laid at the feet of voice actor Shusaku Shirakawa, veteran of numerous animated shows such as Yona of the Dawn (2014) and video games such as Way of the Samurai (2001). Shirakawa provides a soothing narration, delivering the story with measured and even tones. However, he also does character voices for the cast—and even though most of them are female and Shirakawa is not, I thought he did a fine job giving distinct, soft, feminine falsetto vocal tics and character to each. What’s more, so far as I noticed, the voices are easily distinguishable—Kazu and her exaggerated cool; older sister Hirai and her hard-edged cynicism; younger sister Kumi and her innocence and energy; tragic Kei and her uncertainty and wavering spirit. On the other hand, I don’t remember much of Shirakawa’s male characters, but the way that he inhabited the ladies as well as he did impressed me a lot. I have also listened to the original novel upon which The Lines That Define Me was based (I wrote a review of that film for Toho Kingdom, too) performed by Kento Shiraishi, and his performance wasn’t quite as solid for me, with several characters sounding way too similar. Shirakawa also generally manages to provide humanity into those sometimes overly sappy dramatic scenes which annoyed me so in the paper version, and he effectively injects emotion into quiet exchanges, so that overall, the listening is a true pleasure. One minor quibble—some people might take issue with his delivery of the clanging doorbell as customers clamber into the shop, but maybe it just stuck out to me because of how it became a running gag in my book group.

As a tool for brushing up on Japanese, listening to audio books is really challenging, as the language comes fast, and the grammar and vocabulary can be overwhelming. But with Before the Coffee Gets Cold, the story is not so complicated, and a huge proportion of the book is dialogue, which makes the listening much easier. Having read through the book once in Japanese, plus reread portions together with my reading group, and then watched the movie, I was familiar enough with the story and language that understanding the audio book version wasn’t overly difficult, and when I got lost, I could remember what I had read in the book and fill in the gaps. Once you have reached a high enough language level, I highly recommend using this strategy.

So, yeah. The book was not my favorite when I read it, but listening added a lot of drama and fun, and definitely drove up my motivation for learning Japanese. If you can handle the difficulty of the language, I recommend giving the audio book a try, as the narrator is really good and brings the tearjerker material to a more compelling level (perhaps because the story was originally a stage play, it lives better as a performance). Give it a listen while sipping your favorite hot beverage.