Sunday, 6 November 2011

Movies reviewed: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood is set in 1960’s Japan.  Like elsewhere in the world it’s a time of upheaval.  Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) is studying in Tokyo, having left his home in Kobe.  Just before finishing high school his best friend, Kizuki (Kengo Kôra), commits suicide, an event that leaves an indelible mark on both Watanabe and Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi).

While taking a break from his university studies in Tokyo, Watanabe runs into Naoko.  So begins a complicated relationship which oscillates between friendship, romance, dependence and obligation.  The relationship between Naoko and Watanabe is one part of the central love triangle in Norwegian Wood.  The other key relationship is that between Watanabe and the less complicated Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).
Throughout the film Watanabe struggles to distinguish between obligation, love, sex and kindness in his relationships.  He watches enviously as school friend, Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama), deftly stings along along Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsune) while romancing numerous other young women.

Norwegian Wood is based on the novel of the same name, which was written by Haruki Murakami.  It’s probably his most famous and well love novel.  The film is faithful to the story, however, it struggles to evoke the same sense of time, place and emotion.   The soundtrack is used ineffectively, much of it being overbearing and cliché.  On the other hand, cinematographer, Ping BinLee, does an immaculate job of capturing the seasons – the winds, snow, rain and colours – which are used effectively throughout the film to measure the passing of time. 

The film is directed by Anh Hung Tran, whose breakout film, Scent of the Green Papaya, was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1994 Academy Awards.  Norwegian Wood is a strong film, and by no means a failure, but it is its length and lead actor Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s failure to connect with the text that lets it down in the end.  This is definitely a film for lovers of the book and those that appreciate Asian cinema.  

Norwegian Wood was screened in Canberra as part of the Canberra International Film Festival.

Want a second opinion? Check out:

Reviews through Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews by Margaret and David on At The Movies.


Have you seen the film? What did you think?

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