Director: Anh Hung Trang
Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara.
Running Time: 133 minutes
Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), a 19-year-old student who, shaken by the suicide of his best friend Kizuki, flees to Tokyo. One day he meets Kizuki’s long-term girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), a beautiful and timid girl, surrounded by an ever-present air of melancholy. The two begin to rekindle their friendship, but Watanabe clearly wants more.
On her 20th birthday they make love and she vanishes, falling back into a state of depression over the loss of Kizuki. The sudden arrival of Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a flirtatious and lively young woman, sends Watanabe’s life into disarray, as he still feels strongly attached to Naoko. Watanabe is torn between the two extremes and must find the best way to deal with the pain of losing his best friend in order to carry on with his life.
The beautiful Naoko is an almost torturous presence, constantly evoking the past while dragging him in and pushing him as she pleases. Midori taunts and teases him, disappearing and reappearing at will, enticing him with graphic discussions of what she imagines they would do together, without ever actually following through. For Watanabe love is a painful and agonising force, and a foreboding sense of misery seems to linger throughout the entire film.
The film is beautifully shot, and the breathtaking landscapes and enchanting locations are sure to stay with you for a long time afterwards. The cast, in particular Kikuchi and Mizuhara, is exceptional and a fantastic soundtrack by none other than Jonny Greenwood is another highlight. The makings of a perfect film, right? Em, not so much…
Although Norwegian Wood is a pleasure to the eyes and the ears, the film lacks a certain spark. No one expects the sun to be shining and the birds to be singing, and certainly no one expects a happy ending, but Watanabe’s life seems to lack that sense of euphoria that one would expect from being young and in love, no matter how torturous his relationship may be. There would be no heartbreak if there were no joy, and Watanabe’s love seems to be constantly devoid of joy; in Watanabe’s world the only constant is melancholy. The film is slow paced and sometimes lifeless, some of the scenes play out for far too long and the uncomfortably claustrophobic sex scenes made me wish I had a ridiculously overpriced bag of popcorn to root through so I wouldn’t have to keep staring at the screen, pretending that I was cool enough to be comfortable with it.
The film’s far from perfect, and there’s certainly no shortage of odd and awkward moments, but it’s definitely worth a watch if even just for the beautiful cinematography and wonderfully haunting soundtrack.
This film was shown at the James International Film Festival which runs until February 27th.