Isn’t it good?
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
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.