Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tran Anh Hung
Stars: Kenichi Matsuyama, Kengo Kora, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara.
Taking its title from the Beatles song of the same name, Norwegian Wood is a visually beautiful, elegiac and haunting tale of love, longing, loss of innocence, sexuality and madness from award winning French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (Cyclo, The Scent Of The Green Papaya, etc).
Based on the widely acclaimed best selling novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood is set in Japan in 1967, a turbulent time when student revolts were challenging the fabric of society. The rest of the world was undergoing change and the sexual revolution was in full swing. But Japan had a different moral code and attitude towards sex, which leads to tragedy here. Upon hearing the song Norwegian Wood, Toru (Kenichi Matsuyama) reflects back on his friendship with his best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, from Babel, etc). But after Kizuki committed suicide over his failed relationship with Naoko, the nature of their friendship changed.
This beautifully photographed but melancholy film traces the troubled relationship between Toru and the psychologically damaged Naoko who spends a lot of time in rehab. It also follows Toru’s painful coming of age story and the love triangle that develops between himself, Naoko and the beautiful Midori (model Kiko Mizuhara, making her film debut).
This is a superficial treatment of the source novel, which many have considered unfilmable. Mark Lee Bin Ping’s cinematography is exquisite and matches Hung’s sublime, poetic vision, and the film has a surface beauty that is hard to ignore. The film is erotic without being explicit, but it is also slow paced, down beat, introspective, and ultimately seems overlong. An understanding of Japanese culture and social mores is probably also useful in fully appreciating the film.