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Norwegian Wood

Noruwei no mori 2010 | 133 min | Not rated | 2.39:1

Norwegian Wood


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Theatrical release date

 06 January, 2012
 11 March, 2011



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Screenshots from Norwegian Wood Blu-ray

Norwegian Wood Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 5, 2012

“Norwegian Wood” is dark poetry, a tragic love story that combats the inherent cruelty of the tale with lush images of nature and location. It’s a troubling narrative perfectly packaged, unfurling a dramatic sweep of personal loss with a cinematographic precision that generates a specific appreciation of mood when the script occasionally leaves out the details. The expanded air allows director Tran Anh Hung space to feel around the frame, probing for unspoken ways to articulate the difficult relationships and growing pains scattered around this visually striking, melancholy feature film.

Growing up in Tokyo, Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is close friends with Kizuki (Kengo Kora) and his girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), forming an inseparable trio facing the cultural change of the 1960s. When Kizuki suddenly commits suicide, it leaves Watanabe devastated, soon seeking isolation at college, where he can pour his attention into education and books. Developing an uncharacteristic interest in womanizing, Watanabe’s world is rocked when he’s reintroduced to Naoko, with the two expressing feelings for each other, a romantic connection the young woman cannot handle. Over the next year, Naoko works on her profound emotional problems in a remote sanatorium, while Watanabe maintains a connection to his enigmatic object of affection, also spending time with Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a curious young woman who encourages the student’s sensitivity while executing her own puzzling games of flirtation and vulnerability.

The director of “The Scent of Green Papaya” and “The Vertical Ray of the Sun,” Tran Anh Hung has the challenge of adapting Haruki Murakami’s dense novel for the big screen, shaping a largely insular tale of remembrance into an approachable narrative. Gaps grow gradually more apparent as the story unfolds, yet the central pulsation of sorrow remains, finding the filmmaker clinging to his main characters, skillfully extracting moods and needs from a verbally uncommunicative bunch. The intimacy of “Norwegian Wood” is intoxicating at times, observing characters willingly play dangerous games of attraction, hoping to find a safe emotional haven while outside forces chip away at their composed exterior. It’s a feature that generates an understanding of motivation, even if a few corners have been cut to keep the story manageable and direct, preserving the essence of the conflicts without washing away the characters though adaptation requirements.

Although it’s a sensitive tale of misbegotten love, “Norwegian Wood” is actually more severely adult than it initially seems. There’s a heavy air of cultural politeness in play, yet the story crosses into some disturbing areas of misconduct with Watanabe, who’s being molded into a Casanova by a dapper classmate, educated in the ways of mistreating women -- a quality constantly at odds with his romantic devotion to those he loves. Also disturbing is the story’s concept of tragedy, having Naoko tormented not only by the suicide of her soulmate, but her lack of sexual preparedness as well, driven to the brink of madness over what she perceives as the ultimate act of disrespect to her lovers. The source material contains several unexpected turns of deliberation and behavior, sustaining surprise well into the picture, which eventually gives way to more gut-churning acts of rejection and despair. Scraping away the top layer of melodrama, the filmmaker plays a few mournful human notes that deepen the viewing experience.

Playing a critical component to the “Norwegian Wood” experience is cinematography from Mark Lee Ping Bin, who creates a luscious natural light environment for the picture. Creating distinct changes in atmosphere and tension for the movie, the visual design is perfection, underlining bouts of separation and frigidity of communication, while also hitting lyrical highlights that support the delicate nature of the plot, designing places of peace and unrest to capture the developing divide. It’s exemplary work, carrying the viewer off to a place of widescreen artistry I doubt few will want to leave.

“Norwegian Wood” doesn’t carry a full portrait of Watanabe’s shroud of guilt, but it maintains a clear vision of emotional upheaval, developing interesting characters who act in unexpected ways, compassionate to their mistakes and crippling regrets. The script doesn’t possess all of the answers, but there’s enough here to leave the movie sporadically stunning and consistently perceptive.

Starring: Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara
Director: Anh Hung Tran

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