By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I’m a big Haruki Murakami fan. Ever since I first picked up a copy of After Dark, his signature mix of high self-monitoring protagonists, bizarre quintessentially Japanese plotlines, and playful literary experimentation had me hooked. I never thought he’d end up on screen, though, as most of that is quite difficult to adapt.
As are cat-whispering detectives.
With Norwegian Wood, French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (Scent of Green Papaya) has attempted just that. The story is about one melancholy young man (Kenichi Matsuyama) who begins a relationship with his with the troubled girlfriend (Rinko Kikuchi) of his dead best friend. When a new young woman (Kiko Mizuhara) enters his life, he must choose between living in the tragedy of the past, or forging something new in the future.
The closest comparison I can make for this film is to the oeuvre of the master of sumptuously filming love and loss, romantic pining and deep emotion- Wong Kar Wai. That’s high praise, and Hung often comes close, at least visually, to pulling this off. This film is beautiful, from its set design and costuming to DP Mark Lee Ping Bin’s immaculate camerawork. To further show how international this production was, Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood fashions an atmospheric, haunting score to perfectly complement the visuals.
Hung also adapts Wong’s slow, contemplative pace, which draws you into the mood of the story and envelopes you in the emotion of the characters like soft, thick, thoroughly depressing blanket.
Mmm, feels like the tyranny of choice and the inevitability of loss.
Unfortunately, Hung lacks something Wong had- namely Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. More specifically he lacks actors capable of the subtlety necessary to act in unwavering closeups and over and above the dialogue. It’s not that Matsuyama, Kikuchi, et all act poorly, it’s that they don’t adequately give us a window into these characters’ inner life, and Murakami’s characters (especially protagonists) are all about their inner lives.
Which makes you ask why this nondescript sulky dude has to actively beat women away.
Norwegian Wood may boast a Murakami plot (well, the P.G.-13 parts of it, anyway), but it’s missing his soul. Part of the problem is the difficulty in translating inner thoughts and monologues to the screen, but even taking that into account, you shake how detached everything feels. The emotion is on the screen, but your connection with it is absent. It’s like the acting, script, and directing were all miscalibrated by a hair, and the cumulative effect made the film miss its target by a full meter.
Murakami actively grapples with tragedy and its effect on people, especially in the book, but his writing is also clever, and kinky, and delightfully strange. Only the misery and melancholy come through here, though, which is kinda missing the point.
Norwegian Wood is a beautifully made, but ultimately disappointing adaptation of its stellar source material.
Take a Drink: whenever sex comes up
Take a Drink: whenever suicide does
Take a Drink: whenever you see protesters
Take a Drink: every time it rains
Take a Drink: whenever conversation turns to erections
Do a Shot: every time the camera cockteases you