Norwegian Wood (15)

Directed by Tran Anh Hung
(Japanese with English subtitles)
On release from 11th March 2011

Reviewed by Ross O’Toole

Norwegian Wood is a film adaptation of the popular book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It follows a young man named Watanabe who moves to a restless Tokyo to get over the loss of his best friend. Unfortunately, he finds yet more questions about his past and future, personified by Naoko, his childhood friend, and Midori, a smart, sexy, if not slightly cruel classmate.

On a purely superficial level Norwegian Wood is a visual masterpiece; slick camera work is both self-assured and intelligent. The visual warmth of the film, the locations and attention to detail express the feeling of 1960’s Tokyo, or at least how one might imagine it to be. Notably, Norwegian Wood makes pleasing use of weather, which adds another dimension to the already excellent visuals.

However, the film fails to articulate the subtleties of the novel on which it is based. Watanabe, played by Ken'ichi Matsuyama, generally looks a bit undecided, if not tentative, and it is difficult to relate to him. Both Naoko and Midori, played by Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara respectively, deliver much more convincing performances. Nevertheless, Norwegian Wood is disappointing in its inability to draw empathy or compassion for its main characters.

In the novel, events unfold in retrospect through the memories of Watanabe. By contrast, the film plays out in the "there and then." The absence of nostalgia in the film defeats the salience of the original text, making the entire thing somewhat self-indulgent, if not overwrought for those unfamiliar with the book. Still, the stunning visuals, immersing soundtrack (composed by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood) and attention to detail make it nonetheless worthwhile.

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