a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Noruwei no Mori / ノルウェイの森 / Norwegian Wood

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Buzz has been building around Ahn Hung Tran’s highly anticipated adaptation of Haruki Murakimi’s popular novel, Norwegian Wood. Murukami’s woeful tale of growing up mixed up in the 1960s hits the screen as a melancholy and touching meditation on love and loss. Vietnam born, Paris-based Ahn Hung Tran (The Scent of Green Papaya, Cyclo) turns his graceful and insightful eye to a very Japanese story and brings out a universality of emotion. Apart from his stunning direction and the richly saturated images of veteran cinematographer Pin Bing Lee (Three Times, Millennium Mambo) he’s very well serviced by his main actors Kenichi Matsuyama and Academy Award-contender Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and the breakout performance by model Kiko Mizuhara in her screen debut. Norwegian Wood opens sketching out the nascent high school relationship between Toru (Matsuyama), Naoko (Kikuchi) and her boyfriend Kizuki (Kengo Kora). Their delicate balance between friendship and young love gets torn when Kizuki commits suicide. Cut to 1969. Student revolt is in the air and on the streets. The sexual revolution is playing itself out in the college dorms. Toru is living with a louche and likeable roommate, Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama), and working in a record store. Naoko reappears and their unrequited love becomes requited on the eve of her 20th birthday. However she soon disappears, still emotionally devastated by the loss of her young Kizuki. Meanwhile a young student, Midori (Mizuhara) works her way into Toru’s life in a nerdy/sexy very forward way. But as their relationship develops Toru remains obsessed with Naoko. He eventually tracks the still emotionally fragile Naoko to a mountain psychological retreat, where his visits find Naoka losing it more and more. Reconciling his doomed devotion to the increasingly unhinged Naoko and the possibility of a “normal” relationship with Midori becomes Toru’s raison d’etre, which he navigates as best as he can – as best as anyone can in an impossible situation. The journey ends in a particularly bittersweet way. Partly by the deft plotting and characterizations  of Murukami’s novel and partly by the sure hand of Ahn Hung Tran’s direction, the balancing of intersecting love triangles, a certain romantic fatalism that cuts across the tides of history and an evocation of the ghosts of lost loves caught forever in memory and on film are given ample room to live and breathe on screen. The detail in fashions and décor, the background action – helmeted and masked students running and carrying protest banners through urban streets, the wild Bronte-esque evocations of nature at Naoko’s mountain retreat – and the head-spinning soundtrack of obscure pyschedelia (and a more familiar tune, Norwegian Wood) create a pitch perfect world and time for these love stories to play themselves out.

Originally published in EL Magazine, January 2011


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  1. Kafka on the shore and Sputnik sweetheart, those are the books by Murakami I read, not Norwegian Wood yet, but I’m really curious to see if what I think is Murakami’s atmosphere can be caught on film, and this review makes me even more curious. Now, is this movie a work on its own, or is it tightly linked to the novel? In other words, would you recommend reading the book first, or is this movie not a spoiler of what the book has to offer? Don’t know if I make myself clear 🙂

    Jan Niemand

    December 12, 2010 at 11:15 am

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