Monday 20 November 2017

Movies: Norwegian Wood ****

(Club, IFI)

Norwegian Wood

When a book you really like gets adapted for film, you tend to fear the worst. Inevitably, the complexities of novels tend to get ironed out in movies, and to a certain extent that's the case with Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung's Norwegian Wood. But although some of the finer political and social points of Haruki Murakami's acclaimed novel are completely absent, in a larger sense Tran Anh Hung's film is faithful to the book's eerie sense of disassociation and unease.

Set in the '60s, the film recounts the formative experiences of Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), a rather reserved and watchful young man from the Japanese province of Kobe who comes to Tokyo to study.

His best friend growing up was Kizuki, and Toru was devastated when his pal inexplicably killed himself.

So was Kizuki's beautiful but mentally unstable girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), and when she comes to Tokyo Toru and her become involved.

Toru gradually becomes convinced he's in love with her, but Naoko is a brittle, sexually and emotionally complex young woman who cannot commit to a relationship with Toru and eventually withdraws to a sanitarium in a forest near Kyoto. This, of course, only makes Toru want her more, but things get complicated when he meets Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a confident and sunny young female student who seems to be Naoko's polar opposite.

Not a tremendous amount happens in Norwegian Wood; indeed the film exhibits an almost pathological aversion to action. But director Tan Anh Hung holds his nerve impressively to transmit the chilling emotional message of Murakami's novel without compromise.

The film is visually stunning, and shot after shot is beautifully and hauntingly composed. The acting's pretty good too, especially from Rinko Kikuchi, and, although superficially Japanese, Toru's story could be set anywhere.

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