Posts Tagged 'norwegian wood'

Norwegian Wood

The problem with all the Harry Potter movies, apart from maybe the third in the series, is that they all feel hollow and inconsequential. Instead of being fully-fleshed characters, their names are mere vassals, hollow husks in the service of plot development. Without the little moments: Harrison Ford stopping to make a sandwich in The Fugitive; that lovely sequence in Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Hermione dance, the cameras slow and swooping, revealing for the first time genuine platonic love. Without them, it just becomes a series of ‘Harry did this, Harry did that, Hermione screamed…’

How to film a novel then that is all about characters and their discordantly textured personalities and quirks. Haruki Murakami’s book is full of quirks and details that leaven its morbid fascination with sex and themes of isolation. What I remember from the book, was that despite the morose motif of suicide, it was a page-turner, its narrator flawed but engaging, and its characters richly painted. Apart from the sexual set-pieces, incidentals such as Midori’s hilarious proficiency in an irrelevant cooking style, Naoko’s ethereal beauty, Nagasawa’s acutely arrogant handsomeness, and Watanabe’s appreciation of Scotch, all obviously made deep impressions.

Naoko and Watanbe (foreground), and Reiko playing Norwegian Wood

We don’t get this in French-Vietnamese director Tran Ahn Hung’s film version. Set in 1960s Tokyo, we follow student Watanabe, a quiet and considerate soul who is torn between two women: Naoko and Midori. The first was the girlfriend of Watanabe’s best friend Kidzuki, before he unexpectedly committed suicide. She is fragile and lives in a woodland retreat for her depression. Midori meanwhile is sparky and vivacious, introducing herself in the college cafeteria.

Some of the book’s candour – masturbation, pornography, vaginal lubrication – make their way into the film, while other characters get short shrift. Musician Reiko, Naoko’s retreat friend, is an earthy, playful character in the book who has an engrossing back story, but who here is stone-faced and contributes very little to proceedings. Midori’s eccentricities are not used to their full comic effect, and Nagasawa, Watanabe’s playboy friend, isn’t the shallow lens through which the audience can see the depth of Watanabe’s love, loneliness and longing, as he should be.

All in all, it feels like all the character’s relationships are skimmed through, without each of them leaving a lasting impression. Compare this with the masterful City of God, where the vivid direction gave life to each of the many character’s vignettes. But there are things to admire. Cinematographer Ping Bin Lee has given the film a warm and refreshing palette and filled it with elegantly unlovely compositions.  Rinko Kikuchi plays Naoko with plucky sweetness, a perfect foil for glassy fragility.

2/5

Cert: 15

Runtime: 133 mins

Director: Tran Ahn Hung

Cast: Ken’ichi Matsuyama (Watanabe) Rinko Kikuchi (Naoko), Kiko Mizuhara (Midori), Tetsuji Tamayama (Nagasawa)



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