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Original Title:
Noruwei no mori

Japan 2010

Drama, Romance

Anh Dung Tran

Ken'ichi Matsuyama
Rinko Kikuchi
Kiko Mizuhara
Kengo Kôra
Eriko Hatsune
Tetsuji Tamayama
Reika Kirishima
Shigesato Itoi
Takao Handa

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Norwegian Wood

Story: Toru Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) has lost his best friend Kizuki, who committed suicide. The pain of this loss leads him to Tokyo where he attends university. By chance he meets Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) again. She hasn't really coped with the death of her boyfriend Kizuki yet. Watanabe tries to give her support in this difficult time and also is in love with her. But Naoko secludes herself more and more until one day she goes to a mental institution in the mountains and only irregularly sends letters to Watanabe.
Watanabe eventually meets the foul-mouthed Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) who actually has a boyfriend but is still interested in the student. The two do some things together, but Watanabe's heart is still leeching on to Naoko. When Naoko finally invites him to visit her at the mental institution he drops everything and hurries over to her. The student is happy to see the girl again and she is also glad that he visits her, but he also constantly reminds her of Kizuki and her painful loss...

Review: "The book was far superior!", with such a statement you would actually hit the nail right on the head, but such a hardly well-founded conclusion can't be everything to say about this movie. The main problem of this adaption of a novel is that it doesn't capture the actual main mood of Haruki Murakami's novel by the same name. "Norwegian Wood" is melancholic, sad, oftentimes even depressing. However, contrary to the movie Murakami always managed to comfort his reader, too. Even though he was the one who made him sad to begin with thanks to his complex worlds of emotions he created. A part of the writer's essence is therefore simply missing in this movie adaption. Many of the other flaws could have easily been overlooked since the novel certainly isn't transferable into a movie without any problems, but the aforementioned decisive flaw makes you think that director Anh Dung Tran hasn't really grasped the author's intention in its entirity, although he even had contact with him when writing the screenplay.

Nonetheless, "Norwegian Wood" remains a good drama that has many positive aspects to it. For once, there are the pictures which the Vietnamese director captured in the same fashion as for his work "The Scent of Green Papaya" along with lots of lush colors. Especially nature gets a lot of attention in the different seasons depicted. Whether it's the lively colors of spring, the melancholic colors of autumn or the magical white of winter, the pictures are enchanting and thus even the more slow-paced passages aren't really boring at all. Apart from that the bright pictures which are supposed to remind of the 60s/70s in a nostalgic way are convincing as well. After all no one else but Lee Ping-bin is responsible for the cinematography, who also worked alongside Christopher Doyle for "In the Mood for Love" or brought the pictures for "Secret" to the big screen.

The at times breathtakingly beautiful pictures are also supported by a good eye for small details when it comes to the sets, costumes or props. But besides the pictures there are some problems concerning the story. Of course it is impossible to force the complex relationships of Murakami's novel into one film of just 130 minutes and so we were already expecting cuts. One of the most fatal cuts concerns Reiko, an extremely interesting character in the novel, who is connected to Watanabe through an extraordinary friendship. In the movie adaption we get to see almost nothing from her and that makes the question of her towards the end completely uncalled-for and Watanabe's action seems cheap and treacherous. Here it becomes the most apparent how much the character depth suffered in the transfer from book to movie. This also concerns Midori, so that someone who hasn't read the original might think of Watanabe as a heartless cheater, even if just on a mental level.

Actually, only Watanabe and Naoko are brought into the movie fittingly, at least to some degree, even though Watanabe seems rather characterless. Fortunately, Ken'ichi Matsuyama (L from "Death Note") manages to transport a bit more of his character with his finely accentuated acting. However, Rinko Kikuchi (also to be seen in the Brad Pitt-Drama "Babel") as Naoko deserves some special words of praise as she succeeds in giving her role the detachment from the world and the all eroding loneliness that characterizes the Naoko from the novel as well. At any point we are aware of the fact that she doesn't belong into this world but Watanabe's feelings for her keep her from going away. The sad thing, of course, is that we can never really be sure that she loves Watanabe, too. In fact this probably even has to be questioned.

Often the drama in "Norwegian Wood" hits us with all its impact and drags us into a deep depression. The catharsis, that always wanders the horizon as a ray of hope in Murakami's novel, is missing here, though, which is mostly the fault of the way too oppressive soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood (member of the band Radiohead). However, what's well implemented are the many erotic scenes, which shouldn't put off any viewer since they are captured with just the right sense of what should be shown and what shouldn't. Sadly, the story is told in an extremely compressed way. Months and even years pass by and as a viewer who doesn't know the original it is certainly difficult to judge the different relationships right. "Norwegian Wood" still remains a good if also a bit slow and deeply sad drama. Murakami's novel is so much better because it captures the mood of the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood" with every line: melancholic, mysterious, warming. It' just this warmth that the movie lacks...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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