Taking its title from the classic Beatles song of…experience…Norwegian Wood is director Anh Hung Tran’s film adaptation of the work that launched author Haruki Murakami to international literary superstardom. The movie stars two of the more internationally recognizable young Japanese stars working today, Ken’ichi Matsuyama (who has appeared in Nana, Linda Linda Linda, and played L in all three of the Death Note movies) and Rinko Kikuchi (Academy Award nominated for her role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel). With all of these separate pieces, you can imagine how eagerly anticipated this movie has been – in Japan, in the States, all over the world.
In politically and socially tumultuous late 1960s Japan, quiet Tokyo college student Watanabe (Matsuyama) wanders adrift in the world since the suicide of his childhood friend Kizuki (Kengo Kôra). After a chance run-in with another childhood friend (and Kizuki’s girlfriend) Naoko (Kikuchi), the two embark on a brief but significant relationship which ends with the deeply troubled Naoko needing to “go away for a while” – we later learn, to a sanitarium deep in the mountains. As Watanabe tries to carry on a once-monthly relationship with the isolated Naoko, he fills his hours “picking up girls” at nightclubs with his playboy classmate Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) (though the resultant sexcapades are curiously glossed over, and largely only implied) and with the awkward courtship of a pretty classmate, the brash and forward (and also troubled) Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).
As earnestly as the action in Norwegian Wood plays out, the movie unfortunately feels a bit thin to me, a bit light, playing more like a straight, point-A-to-point-B telling of plot elements than the fine-edged character study that it aspires to be. Director Tran, one feels, came to a point where he had to choose between character and plot, and chose the latter. As a result, while we see and follow the action unfolding around Watanabe, many supporting characters (Nagasawa’s long-suffering girlfriend Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsune), Naoko’s sanitarium roommate Reiko (Reika Kirishima), etc.), steeped in unspoken importance, flit in and out of frame without terribly much to say, do or contribute, other than to overall mood.
In terms of atmosphere and visuals, Norwegian Wood is masterful – how great it is to have a movie full of period nostalgia without having to resort to color filters and smoke machines (hello, Wong Kar Wai); however, those seeking any more than that may leave a bit disappointed. While aspiring to take on such weighty themes as memory, nostalgia, longing, loss, aging, madness, death and, of course, love, Norwegian Wood is, in the end, like the best one night stands, pleasant enough while it lasts but will, for better or worse, slowly fade from memory.
Posted on January 12, 2012, in Film Review and tagged Anh Hung Tran, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Kengo Kôra, Kiko Mizuhara, Norwegian Wood, Reika Kirishima, Rinko Kikuchi, Tetsuji Tamayama. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.