Norwegian Wood (2010)

95.

★★★

Directed by: Tran Anh Hung
Written by : Haruki Murakami (novel), Tran Anh Hung
Starring: Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.”

Bringing Haruki Murakami’s international best-seller, Norwegian Wood, to the screen is no easy feat. Vietnamese-born director, Tran Anh Hung, however, rises to the occasion. With films like The Scent of Green Papaya and Vertical Ray of the Sun included in his filmography, the director’s tender and delicate visual touch seems well matched for a story that not only deals with complex characters, but also an equally complex context. While it’s hard to say whether any film could tell Murakami’s story more effectively than he does in print, Tran Anh Hung beautifully captures 1960’s Japan and natural landscapes as a way of exploring the strange and wonderful relationship between two young lovers.

In Norwegian Wood, Kizuki’s (Kora) sudden and unexpected suicide leaves two individuals in an unspoken grief – Kizuki’s former girlfriend, Naoko (Kikuchi), and his best friend, Watanabe (Matsuyama). Drawn to each other through their shared sadness, Naoko and Watanabe develop an attachment to each other that is at first expressed physically, but later,  felt indescribably over great distances and periods of time.

For a story that seems to revolve around the characters and their experiences, the performances in Norwegian Wood are secondary to the beautiful cinematography that stops the film from being too wordy and emotionally heavy. Tran Anh Hung gives life and color in reviving 60’s Japan, and fills frames with sumptuous natural landscapes that move through seasons, speaking volumes about the emotions and experiences of the characters than they do themselves.

But while Norwegian Wood refuses to be a straightforward tragedy about messed up, pretty young things, its emphasis on stillness and quiet intimacy can often feel too drawn out and slow-paced to be compelling.

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