Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name, Norwegian Wood (2010) is in 1967, during the student turmoil at a Tokyo university. It begins with three students, thick as thieves; Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama), Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), and Kizuki (KengoKora). But tragedy strikes early on when Kizuki decides to take his own life.
In dealing with their grief Watanabe and Naoko share a night of passion, but are subsequently separated when Naoko falls prey to mental illness and is relocated to an isolated clinic. Watanabe becomes distracted by Midori (KikoMizuhara), a gorgeous ingénue with an agenda, while his Lothario buddy Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) only seems to provide Watanabe with confusion and irresponsible ideas. Watanabe visits Naoko and is befriended by Naoko’s carer, Reika, herself a patient, but nowhere near as fragile as Naoko.
Director Anh Hung Tran is a Vietnamese filmmaker known for two highly acclaimed features, The Scent of the Green Papaya and Cyclo. With Norwegian Wood he effortlessly captures the Japanese aesthetic and sensibility and delivers a stunning portrait of angst and sorrow, pulchritude, and hope. The dynamic of emotions and desires, the myriad of thoughtful reflections from the characters, bounce and float, weave and wander along a richly textured narrative thread that lilts and sways on the warm wind of love’s cool change.
Ping Bin Lee’s cinematography is sublime, shot in pastels, with a luminescent sheen, the interiors as beautifully rendered as the stunning landscapes, especially the snow-laden hills where Naoko’s clinic is situated. Lee shared lighting duties with the equally talented Christopher Doyle on Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, which was another immaculately captured period film of similar themes and tone.
But it’s not just the light and shadow play that gives Norwegian Wood such beauty and characters; it’s the art direction, costuming, the wonderful score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and the actors themselves, all of them oozing such effortless charisma, sex appeal, nonchalance, and melancholy. Indeed, it is the movie’s blue emotive tone and mood that provides the movie with a powerful fragility.
But this sadness doesn’t weigh the movie down like a Greek tragedy, on the contrary, it elevates the story, the breeze of hope and progression carries the narrative fabric beyond the dark memories that will never be forgotten, but can be finally laid to rest. Norwegian Wood is a universal tale of love, life, loss, and acceptance; “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. She showed me her room, isn’t it good…”
— Norwegian Wood film review written by Bryn Tilly of cultprojections.com