Adaptations are never an easy task, at one point you’ll always upset a die hard fan in one way or another. Luckily for Norwegian Wood’s director Anh Hung Tran, this isn’t the case. The only problem is that fans of the original source will enjoy its pace and mood, whilst others might be left slightly bored.
Based on the famous Japanese book by Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood tells the story of Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), a student in 60s Tokyo who falls in love with his dead best friend’s girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) as they attempt to over come their shared tragedy. However as depression and teen angst sets in, so does Naoko’s mental illness, forcing her to leave Tokyo. In this time Wantanabe meets free-spirited girl Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) in his class who is a light in the dark tunnel of his life.
The first problem the movie has is its slow nature. However this is a conscious factor that the director clearly wanted for the movie. Long shots of the beautiful Japanese meadows are littered throughout, juxtaposed with close intermit shots inside Japanese flats. The melancholic pace the film has might bore some audiences and entertain others who are used to it. The film clocks in at over two hours keeping in all the importing quirks the book has which fans will latch onto, such as the character of Storm Trooper (Tokio Emoto).
The slow pace is also thrown in with a lot of silent sections which almost makes the content we are watching awkward, as if we are intruders on their lives. This isn’t a fault; this makes the audience feel more involved in the movie as we see Watanabe’s struggles with growing up. When the soundtrack is present its orchestral numbers and electric tunes (done by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) are mixed in with songs from the time period such as The Doors. These give it an authentic feel and set it in its time period.
Even though the Vietnam-born director couldn’t speak Japanese, Rinko Kikuchi (who received an Oscar nomination for her flawless performance in Babel) steals the show as the mentally fragile Naoko. The movie is really at its high point when we are with Naoko and drops when Kiko Mizuhara plays an awkward Midori whose playful edge (which is present in the book) is slightly downplayed. Kenichi Matsuyama performance as Watanabe may look dull on the outside but actually hits the nail on the head as he is witness to a world changing around him which he can’t seem to do anything about.
Norwegian Wood is a near perfect adaption of an amazing book. The film has a personal feel from the director which people get when reading a Murakami book. All the little traits and jokes from the book happened to make it in which will entertain some audiences but confuses and bore many others however Anh Hung Tran’s beautiful visuals and believable characters already has it’s audiences as the movie is playing on limited screens.
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