“Norwegian Wood” Movie Review

“Norwegian Wood” movie poster

by Dan Moeller

After coming across the “Norwegian Wood” (ノルウェイの森) youtube trailer I must say I was more than eagerly anticipating the movie. This is the first of Haruki Murakami’s famous works to have been adapted to the big screen. Considering most of his books include talking cats, out-of-body experiences, and the like, “Norwegian Wood” is definitely one of his more grounded works. I pictured the scenes vividly while reading the novel, yet had never imagined a movie could encompass Murakami’s voice.

Although I have only read three of Murakami’s many novels – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and Norwegian Wood – I feel I still have a pretty good sense of Murakami’s writing style. The main character is usually a realistic sort of guy (with a love for nature, fitness, and routine) who plunges into the not-so-real spectrum. This guy, more a passenger than a driver, usually encounters a girl who is sucked into a bad place by something very sinister. There are a good amount of sexual interactions and many would seem very perverse if Murakami’s subtle design hadn’t painted each scene with a sense of “reasonable.” In a way, Haruki Murakami could be Chuck Palahniuk’s (see: Fight Club or Choke) polite and reserved twin. Throw in a handful of pop culture references and you have the makings of a Murakami best-seller.

The film is beautiful in regards to both sight and sound. The cinematography was great, with lush scenes shot around Tokyo, panned in a no-rush Japanese style. A good example of this trademark style is the quick and bloody fight scenes in Takeshi Kitano’s “Zatoichi” (2003) opposite to the lingering views on placid landscapes sometimes in the same scene. The original soundtrack, contributed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, mixes with a handful of tracks from the experimental rock band Can. Can’s very Beatle-esque sound adds to the 1960s atmosphere of this movie and offers a very nostalgic yet culminating feel when we finally hear The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.”

Being a fan of both Murakami’s work and this movie’s atmosphere, I am still very much at odds with the direction and story. The book (with a lofty 296 crowded pages) is filled with anything but fluff. Each character and each scene seemed to have been boiled down to their essence. The problem is that although the movie clocks in at over two hours, Murakami’s intended voice seems to be cracking as lively scenes and characters have met with the chopping block. An older self looking back with occasional humor, the main character and narrator of the book now seems immature and the message indecisive at best. We are left with a barrage of sex scene after strange sex scene that amounts to a disconnectedness where Murakami previously had composed closure.

Director and screenplay writer Anh Hung Tran is famed for his stylistic works. His career work on only seven films in 22 years is accredited to his exacting style and his lack of funds. Tran fought for four years to win Murakami’s approval on making the movie. When asked if faithful to the novel Tran said he was faithful to the emotions he felt while reading the book. Although Tran seemed to be one of the few directors capable of tackling a Murakami novel, it seems he fell a bit short on this piece.

I enjoyed the movie for the most part and worked through the lulls, but I recommend avoiding sizing the movie to the novel; you’ll only feel short-changed. Despite the Japan release in December of 2010, a US release date has not yet been announced.

You can see a trailer of the movie here.