My first hand experience of a Haruki Murakami novel was reading Hard Boiled Wonderland and the end of The World a very obscure fantasy that left me with the feeling WTF did I just read, though very riveting. NORWEGIAN WOOD is the top opposite end of the scale from Hard Boiled, a more sombre tale and calling it a straight forward story could be seen as a silly comment when regarding a Murakami story. It is s straight forward story as it’s not a fantasy no Morlock type creatures or talking shadows that love Bob Dylan but it’s a story of young love, friendship, grieving but this is Murakami and deep down it’s a cathartic tale of a soul searching, trust and letting go of the past.
Set in the 1960’s Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) and his sad tragic relationship with Naoko ( Rinko Kikuchi ) both drawn together through the loss of Kizuki Toru’s best friend and Naoko’s soulmate. Through this loss, the pair develops a love for each other but as there love gets closer Kizuki’s death comes back to haunt them moving them a little further away from each other affecting their everyday life. Whilst both search for the answers Toru’s possible answer lies in another love interest of Midori (Kiko Mizuhara ) but Toru’s heart is torn between Naoko and Midori.
Norwegian Wood is a sad tragic story and the level of emotion is seen through Naoko’a character especially who played brilliantly by Rinko Kikuchi (also seen in Babel, Brothers Bloom and next 47 Ronin). She’s fragile lost soul disturbed by the events and even when she tries to move on her can’t. Matsuyama’s character Toru seems to be a little more reserved, the events seemed to have cocooned him in a shell crying out for that push of courage & direction and even before Kizuki’s death he was in a cocoon scared to show his true feeling and now Kizuki’s dead he’s more reserved as Naoko’s more emotionally frail. When the both of them are together you do get that sense of feeling why are they together rather than will they or won’t they and even the sex scenes feel cold proving they have no solace, which makes you wonder why Midori is still waiting for Toru?
The movie is a slow burner which never gets out of gear one which may affect the enjoyment for some people, I felt at times I was watching a French arthouse movie and at times questioning myself is Norwegian Wood set in Japan or Vietnam.Tran Anh Hung’s adaptation is a touching tale which does respect the origins of the novel but what it did lack was the filmmakers on stylings and listening to the other movie goers who have read the books possibly a little more development in some of the Characters especially Reiko (Reika Kirishima). She plays the older friend who Naoko meets in the retreat, like a guardian for her but in the novel, it seems she has a bigger role in the whole story.
Along with Kikuchi’s performance as Naoka the cinematography for the movie was just stunning giving the character a sense of peace and tranquility in the backdrop of the Japanese countryside and it was helped by the haunting score created by Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood,his music worked perfectly with the movie giving tension and scope to young lovers plight. One thing Murakami does wonderfully is brought some dark humour to a sad story which you see slightly in Kizuki’s death scene, not in the way Bill Murray did in Zombieland but in a way, making feels sorry for Kizuki.
Norwegian Wood is a deeply haunting heartbreaking affair which looks at grieving and love but was crying for a little more character development especially in the secondary characters (Reiko & Kazuki). It was a faithful attempt by Tran Anh Hung though you may ask would a filmmaker with a clearer insight into the mind of Murakami would they have done a better job? The movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea though Norwegian Wood maybe one of those movies actually reading the book before you see the movie could help your enjoyment of this movie.
★★★| Paul Devine
Drama, World Cinema | Japan, 2010 |15 (UK) | 11,March 2011 (UK) | Glasgow Film Festival | Soda Pictures | Dir: Anh Hung Tran | Rinko Kikuchi, Kenichi Matsuyama , Kiko Mizuhara