Norwegian Wood ノルウェイの森
Period relationships drama
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 136 mins
Directed by Tran Anh Hung
By Derek Elley
Fri, 03 September 2010, 00:01 AM (HKT)
Faithful, over-long adaptation looks great but doesn't emotionally engage as it should. Festivals, plus niche theatrical.
Japan, 1967, during an age of student protest and sexual freedom. Teenagers Naoko (Kikuchi Rinko), her boyfriend Kizuki (Kora Kengo) and their friend Watanabe Toru (Matsuyama Kenichi) are the closest of friends. When 17-year-old Kizuki unexpectedly commits suicide, Toru - despite the fact that he secretly loves Naoko - moves away from Kobe to attend a private university in Tokyo, where he shares a dormitory room with the eccentric Storm Trooper (Emoto Tokio) and gets to know smooth womaniser Nagasawa (Tamayama Tetsuji). By chance, Toru bumps into Naoko, who's moved to a school in Tokyo, and they end up having a one-night stand before she disappears. Nagasawa introduces Toru to other women, and finally Toru meets the kooky Kobayashi Midori (Mizuhara Kiko). Then a letter arrives from Naoko, asking him to visit her in a remote private sanatorium north of Kyoto where she shares a room with Ishida Reiko (Kirishima Reika), a married music teacher in her late 30s.
With whole chunks of dialogue leaping off the screen, Norwegian Wood ノルウェイの森 (2010) is a very faithful — sometimes a tad too literal — adaptation of MURAKAMI Haruki 村上春樹's 1987 novel about emotional and sexual angst in late-'60s Japan. French-based writer-director TRAN Anh Hung has done a good job in paring back the discursive original (including some of its more ludicrous sexual dialogue) and grasped the essence of what is really a very simple story — a young man's blind love for a close friend who will never love him as much as she loved their mutual best friend. In tandem with Taiwanese d.p. Mark LEE 李屏賓's pristine widescreen images (unbelievably, sourced on HD), Tran brings a sensuality and feeling for emotional fragility to the adaptation that strongly recalls his earlier movies The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) and At the Height of Summer (1999) — and in many respects improves on the novel.
That's fine for the first hour, as Toru finally sleeps with, loses, and then refinds the damaged Naoko, meanwhile having taken up with the kooky Midori, who won't sleep with him. But thereafter, starting with a long monologue by Naoko shot in a single, to-and-fro travelling shot, Tran's cool, refined approach starts to bring diminishing returns. There's still an hour-and-a-half of the movie to run, and as Toru shuttlecocks between the psychologically damaged Naoko in her rural sanatorium and the hot-and-cold Midori back in Tokyo there's simpy not enough going on here emotionally to engage the viewer across such a span.
The early 20th century-like score by Radiohead musician Jonny GREENWOOD does much to keep the film from unravelling, its classical-with-dissonances string writing reflecting emotions that are only occasionally portrayed on screen. But as the movie edges towards its resolution, the characters seem more and more shallow and self-absorbed rather than richer and more sympathetic. What may keep readers hooked across 380 pages is not enough to withstand well over two hours of exposure on a big screen. At 100 minutes maximum, Norwegian Wood could work as a meticulously mounted slice of metaphysical cinema; at 136 minutes it just ends up damaging itself.
Production and costume design by ATAKA Norifumi 安宅紀史 and Tran's regular actress YEN Khe Luguern are not especially aggressive on a period level: the artifacts and clothes are there but, combined with Tran's distilled direction, the movie doesn't feel late '60s in spirit. Casting however, is on the nose. KIKUCHI Rinko 菊地凛子 (Babel (2006), Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (2009), Shanghai (2010)) is not quite as physically delicate as on the page but she captures Naoko's just-out-of-grasp character to a tee. In her first screen role, model MIZUHARA Kiko 水原希子 simply is Midori — cute, annoying, capricious, grandstanding — and wins her screen spurs in her final, beautifully judged scene opposite MATSUYAMA Kenichi 松山ケンイチ, who also perfectly captures the free-floating side of Toru's character as he bounces between two indecisive young women.
Of all the main characters, KIRISHIMA Reika 霧島れいか's role as Naoko's roommate Reiko has lost the most detail in the adaptation, but the actress brings a quiet authority to her part as the "older woman" which even manages to bring off her tricky final scene. The rest of the cast is fine within the script's confines. The eponymous Beatles song is heard only twice, and briefly.
ContactSales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam/Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com)
Premiere: Venice Film Festival (competition), 2 Sep 2010. Theatrical release: Japan, 11 Dec 2010.
Presented by Asmik Ace Entertainment (JP), Fuji Television Network (JP). Produced by Norwegian Wood Partners (JP). Executive producers: Teshima Masao, Kameyama Chihiro. Producer: Ogawa Shinji.
Script: Tran Anh Hung. Novel: Murakami Haruki (1987). Photography: Mark Lee. Editing: Mario Battistel. Music: Jonny Greenwood. Production design: Ataka Norifumi, Yen Khe Luguern. Costume design: Yen Khe Luguern. Sound: Urata Kazuharu. Visual effects: Matsumoto Hajime. Autumn unit photography: Fukumoto Jun.
Cast: Matsuyama Kenichi (Watanabe Toru), Kikuchi Rinko (Naoko), Mizuhara Kiko (Kobayashi Midori), Kirishima Reika (Ishida Reiko), Kora Kengo (Kizuki), Hatsune Eriko (Hatsumi), Tamayama Tetsuji (Nagasawa), Emoto Tokio (Storm Trooper), Handa Takuo (Midori's father), Itoi Shigesato (university professor).