Friday, 25 March 2011

Norwegian Wouldn't

Norwegian Wood: Review

Don't go into the light
When my friend Paul suggested a trip to see the hotly anticipated film adaptation of Haruki Murakami's 1987 best-seller Norwegian Wood, I agreed gladly but only on the understanding I'd read the book first.

So given a miserable snowy Tuesday afternoon, course work begging to be ignored and a quick stop into Fopp: roughly 5 hours later I was done. NAE BOTHER.

And I loved it - perhaps a little too much.

You see I'm of the firm opinion that books of near perfection should be kept as such and not adapted into film, lest the shoddy adaptation tarnish everything the book achieves. (Drama queen much?)

One word: Gatsby.

Alas, I was still intrigued to see what Vietnamese director, Tran Anh Hung had to offer in way of cinematic translation.

Disappointingly, my low expectations were barely met. That'll teach me to read.
Love overcomes all (even excessive dandruff apparently)

The story follows protagonist Toru Watanabe on a nostalgic journey back to 1960s Tokyo and the painful memories of a troubled youth, depression and unrequited love. A riveting and emotionally charged read from start to finish, the film conveys the scenery of the Japan immensely, through breath-taking cinematography, yet barely touches on many of the intrinsic relationships and in-depth characterisation featured in the book.

The result being somewhat of a hollow and distanced view of a tragic relationship; a far cry from the utterly engulfing novel.
It was the height difference that got in the way in the end...

The whole thing has an air of "contemporary art" around it: expansive shots of beautiful Japanese scenery dominate, with edgy, moving conversational shots, detracting much attention away from the dialogue (which is sparce throughout - to the extent that you're more aware of the awkward silence in the cinema than what's going on on-screen *tummy rumble alert*) instead focusing on meaningful glances and nods. Which has definite artistic value in terms of beauty, but when witty rhetoric, passionate exchanges and enlightened characterisation is sacrificed, it begs the question is beauty enough?

I appreciate that the film simply can't accomodate EVERYcharacter and background story, however, I felt somewhat robbed of the characterisation necessary for understanding key characters. Naoko's presence and troubles are felt throughout although never fully explained, Reiko is barely touched upon and other supporting roles Nagasawa, Midori and even Watanabe's comical roomate,"Stormtrooper", are barely touched upon in any depth.

The effect of this is a film revolving around two central characters with a whole band of peripheral extras - which, if you read the book, you'll know is a tragic loss.

"For our next trick we will all fit compactly inside this case to the tune of Eleanor Rigby."
Although the soundtrack is relatively engaging (although at times quite jarring and harsh against the peaceful landscapes) other crucial cultural references are missing: such as any real mention of the nostalgic Beatles song that evokes the memories of unrequited love and painful loss in Watanabe, the catalyst of the entire story, Norwegian Wood, and the many references he makes to American literature such as The Great Gatsby, a clear influence of Murakami and his protagonist are simply omitted.

I want to say the saving grace of the piece, other than stunning cinematography, is the performance of the young actors, and Rinko Kikuchi doesn't disappoint, conveying Naoko with as much emotion and agony as I'd envisioned.

However, Kenichi Matsuyama's portrayal of the lonesome yet strangely charismatic Watanabe left me underwhelmed for the most part. His only scene that demands more than intense brooding or confusion sees him screaming the tormented wail of madman against a dramatic backdrop of crashing waves and ragged rocks....unfortunately this scene is utterly overshadowed by the lengthy and somewhat Beethoven-esque (as in the dog, not the composer) length of drool he produces in doing so.

Sadly this evoked more disgust than sympathy in the audience, forcing the desire to scream "I KNOW YOU'RE SAD - BUT JUST WIPE IT MAN!" at the screen.

The frequent and supposedly explicit sex scenes also pale in comparison to the written word, and when even the raunchy parts leave you cold, you know you're onto Japanese plums...

Stand-alone, with no prior knowledge of the book, I would recommend watching this for the beauty of the cinematography and Japanese landscape...but for unfortunately for little else.

Another example of best left alone.

To be enjoyed in its purest form - translated English.


  1. I'll read the book then!

  2. DO IT! You'll enjoy, that's a *money back guarantee x

    *when I say "money" what I actually mean is "magic beans".


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