‘Norwegian Wood’ is based on Haruki Murakami’s 1987 international best-seller, a coming-of-age story set in Tokyo during the late 1960s. The action takes place during the university years of student Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) and his relationship with Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). Both friends are struggling to deal with a mutual loss. Their relationship grows, eventually becoming lovers. But a mistake by Watanabe forces Naoko to retreat, growing more unstable she abandons college and enrols into a sanitorium. Over the next few years, Watanabe is torn between his unresolved feelings towards Naoko and his growing affection for the free-spirited Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) who is pursuing him.
Watanabe’s relationship with Naoko is certainly unusual, their relationship is fraught and unfulfilled. Watanabe’s desire not to give up on Naoko because of his own sense of responsibility only causes more pain for the both of them. Their relationship is more akin to a suicide pact in reverse where both are left to live. Symbolism is used throughout this film, the twin forces of life and death which confront Watanabe are played by Midori and Naoko. The director Anh Hung Tran uses the elements superbly to envelope the changeable emotions running through Watanabe. One particularly memorable scene follows Naoko and Toru as they walk back and forth, on a cold and windy day in a field of tall grass. Naoko argues with herself and Watanabe is literally battling the elements in his attempts to control her, while she remains as erratic and unfathomable as the wind itself.
The unrelenting doom throughout the film made for an arduous experience, the film may be about young adults struggling to cope with love, life and death but it was hard not to shout ‘Oh come on, get over it!’. Midori’s strangely misplaced dirty talk and Watanabe’s room-mate’s strange habits were some of the few light-hearted moments. The acting is very good from a strong cast, particularly Kiko Mizuhara. Jonny Greenwoods score was fine in the first half of the film but grew more intrusive. ‘Norwegian’ Wood is fabulously shot by Mark Ping Bin Lee, just witnessing the beautiful changes in the seasons was worth the price of a cinema ticket.
‘Norwegian Wood’ reminds me of Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In The Mood For Love’, a romantic tragedy with wonderful acting, period detail and superb cinematography but ultimately leaves you wondering if the experience was really worth it.