Isn’t it good?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

IT’S THE swing­ing ’60s and Ja­panese youth are tak­ing the streets while em­brac­ing free love and each other. In this spirit, the aim­less Toru Watan­abe se­duces the frag­ile Naoko, a long­time un­re­quited crush, on the eve of her 20th birth­day.

Still traumatised by the death of her high school boyfriend, Naoko re­sponds by check­ing her­self into a dis­tant san­i­to­rium. Toru pines but soon finds so­lace

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in the wild, un­in­hib­ited Mi­dori. Heart­break en­sues.

Adapt­ing Haruki Mu­rakami’s dense, in­tro­spec­tive tome for the screen was never go­ing to be easy. The 1987 novel cat­a­pulted the au­thor into lit­er­ary star­dom (Nor­we­gian Wood usurped The Catcher in the Rye as the text of choice among scen­ester J-teens), but its sprawl­ing me­lan­cho­lia of­fers lit­tle by way of punchy nar­ra­tive hooks.

It falls to Tran Anh Hung, the achingly po­etic FrenchViet­namese tal­ent be­hind Cy­clo and The Scent of Green Pa­paya, to trans­late all that angst and over­wrought puppy love into cin­ema. Tran, one of film’s great­est sen­su­al­ists, rises to the chal­lenge with a beau­ti­ful se­ries of swoon­ing tableaux. The cam­era steals about in dream­like mo­tions. The colours are in­vari­ably lush.

The pace is slow and hyp­notic. Each wist­ful love scene – there are, you might guess, quite a few – is coyly yet in­ti­mately pre­sented to a de­gree that can make the viewer feel like they’ve walked in on some­thing they shouldn’t have.

Jonny Green­wood’s tremen­dous score is equally taste­ful. Even the oc­ca­sional de­mented out­bursts look stately and re­strained. Imag­ine a chaste Jackie photo-strip ren­dered in lov­ingly carved Ukiyo-e play­ing out to hippest sound­track this side of Lost in Trans­la­tion, and you’re half­way there.

If any­thing, Tran’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion can be too classy for its own good. Mu­rakami fans may well find them­selves yearn­ing for one of the au­thor’s more ec­cen­tric tan­gents. As things stands, Nor­we­gian Wood is plenty sen­so­rial but not nearly car­nal enough. These are hor­mon­ally charged teenagers, right? Doesn’t that de­mand just a lit­tle more mess and fuss?

Devo­tees of pure cin­ema will, nonethe­less, be over­whelmed. Though ex­plo­sion junkies are just plum out of luck.

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