Everyone’s influence from John Lennon to Haruki Murakami was inspired by this film which is based off the best selling book in Japanese history. A Japanese film by a French-Vietnamese writer-director based on a 1987 international best-seller named after a 1965 Beatles’ song about Scandinavian pine. The film is set during a period of revolutionary upheaval. Upon hearing the song Norwegian Wood, Toru remembers back to his life in the 1960s, when his friend Kizuki killed himself and he grew close to Naoko, Kizuki’s girlfriend. As the two try, in very different ways, to contend with their grief, Toru forms a bond with another woman, Midori.
This movie is gorgeously photographed by Ping Bin Lee. I saved Norwegian Wood for last when reading through Murakami’s body of work and found it a depressing companion piece to everything else. One of the things I liked about was the intoxicating, complicated brew of romance, politics, memory, and friendship, all carried off with a light touch for all the dark territory that is covered. A lot of fans of the book seem to be complaining that the movie was not long enough to fit in all aspects of the novel. This is nonsense, as it is actually very faithful to the original and you can’t expect any adaptation to cover every sentence. The film is in fact over long as they drag out the tedious conversations mainly revolving around handjobs.
Writer-director Tran Anh Hung may not speak Japanese, but in other respects he’s ideally suited to the task as director. You might be familiar with the directors body of work but may have to dig into the back part of your memory to remember. You see, he took an eight year leave of absence before returning to direct the American/HK thriller, I Come With the Rain, and got critically panned. But, credit should be given when it’s due. The roles of both Nagasawa and Hatsumi are well performed, particularly in the confrontational dinner scene. On an end note, the scenes are beautiful, and almost every 20 minutes of the film the audiences are treated with a beautiful scene. But that doesn’t save the movie as a whole. The novel Is relatively long, and for people who have read it, you cannot satisfy everybody.
I really don’t know how someone who doesn’t know the book will react to this. I suspect that if you are a romantic at heart, you will like it, even if you find it a bit overlong and some of the characters too thinly drawn. Both book and film are very Japanese. So be prepared for a slow pace, allowing you plenty of time to catch up with its story. Be prepared for a Japanese styling as well. The film also follows the book’s plot, more precisely than we are used to in our Western world. Ultimately Hung Tran tries to have his cake and eat it, employing the oblique supernaturalism of Murakami’s writing as well as making a coherent, realist, coming-of-age drama. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood contributes a sympathetic score. Too often, though, the film comes across as a summary of the films counterpart which alienates half its audience from the gate.