Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森): my first taste of Murakami on film

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

Norwegian Wood. Named after the Beatles song released in the 1960s. That’s also when the story is set, at the start of the Vietnam war, with the Japanese public up in arms over Okinawa being used as a base from which American forces were being launched. (It wasn’t subbed, but you could hear the protesters yelling something like “return Okinawa!” in the background.) But in the middle of all that upheaval, ‘ordinary’ people just kept trying to cope with life and love. And for Watanabe and Naoko, with heartbreak and death.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I walked into the cinema yesterday. I’d gotten the email at around half 3, a reminder – or rather, my first inkling – that Norwegian Wood was being shown at the Canberra film festival yesterday and today, and I made up my mind there and then to go and see it. There’s been a fair amount of publicity, I suppose, as this Murakami title is his most famous work, at least here in the West. But I think what stood out most for me was the advertising in Japan, not only from my trip in March but also on the J-entertainment blog I follow, especially since Matsuyama Kenichi has been in the news a lot. Anyway, it was barely on the edge of my radar, but enough to make me go see it, especially since I’d had an interesting chat with a friend about Murakami’s postmodernism at the end of last semester ^^.

I have read two Murakami novels thus far, though Norwegian Wood is not one of them. This might, however, be the right balance, because I didn’t know for sure how the story would develop (some things you could easily guess), not to mention not having to compare the film to the novel. However, I could tell that the director, Anh Hung Tran, was trying to convey the atmosphere of a Murakami work in this film, by means of sound and imagery, juxtapositions and contrasts. I found some of the music somewhat intrusive, though it was also used very effectively in the scene where Watanabe was faced with the full weight of his grief. The contrast between Midori’s warm apartment, and the stark coldness of the foyer of Watanabe’s apartment block was also noteworthy. There were also many symbolic scenes of certain characters in a particular space, next to nature, and cut off from the rest of the world. I’d like to see the film again just to identify and analyse all the symbolism.

There’s not much else I want to say, really. The actors were excellent, especially Kikuchi Rinko as Naoko and MatsuKen as Watanabe. And I will see it again one day. First though, I might check out the novel, though I expect it’ll be on multiple holds at my library…ah well.

p.s. I knew I’d recognised Tamayama Tetsuji from somewhere – the J-drama “Sunao ni narenakute / Hard to say I love you”! He looks rather different in the film, but it’s really obvious from the publicity photos…

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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