Review: Norwegian Wood
Those that know me well would tell you Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is my favourite novel and one I have loved ever since I first read it. When I learned that a film was being made I was both excited and apprehensive. I’m not against film adaptations of books but they have to be done right and by a director with a real passion for the novel. I knew this would probably be my hardest film review to date because I wanted a masterpiece in Norwegian Wood, worthy of the book but did I get it?
The film focuses on Toru Watanabe (Ken’ichi Mutsayama) who suffers many difficulties in his young life. His best friend, Kizuki (Kengo Kora), commits suicide and Toru shares a night of passion with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), who he has always had feelings for. Naoko is unable to recover from Kizuki’s death and descends into depression, finding solace in a sanatorium in Kyoto while Toru studies at a university in Tokyo. Longing for word from Naoko, things become even more complicated when Toru meets the free-spirited Midori (Kiku Mizuhara) who is everything Naoko isn’t. Toru is torn between a relationship with Midori or standing by Naoko even if it means there will never be any chance of love for them.
The film has been referred to by some critics as a summary of Murakami’s novel and in many respects this is sadly true. Many elements of the book are eliminated and Toru is thrown together with characters who the audience are not really introduced to properly. After seeing him in the early days with Kizuki and Naoko we find him at university with Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) who Toru joins on nights out in pursuit of women to sleep with even though Nagasawa is in a long-term relationship with Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsune). The character of Storm Trooper (Tokio Emoto) who shares a dormitory with Toru does feature but it’s a fleeting glance. Reiko (Reika Kirishima) has plenty of screen time but we don’t learn very much about her character sadly. The film does improve with the arrival of Midori and there is the essence of the wonderful character from Murakami’s book conveyed here.
It may sound like there’s nothing to like about Norwegian Wood but this isn’t the case. Matsuyama, Kikuchi and Mizuhara all do well in the leading roles, not completely bringing the characters I love to the screen but certainly getting to the core of them. The scenery in Kyoto is utterly gorgeous and I always love watching all facets of Japanese society in films, the country is such a remarkable place. The film manages to be moving and in that respect it’s a success but as a reader of the novel I’m already in the know about the characters and the storyline so many things I can forgive. For someone who hasn’t read the book it will be difficult to become as involved in this film, the summarising of characters and parts of the plot even being eradicated will make it something of a challenge. I was desperate to love this film and although I don’t hate it I think there are some flaws here which stops it being an excellent film or even, sadly, a masterpiece.
Norwegian Wood is one film I wanted to work, probably more than any other I’ve seen but it sadly falls short. Though the three leads do well with their characters, Matsuyama in particular, the end result is something of a disappointment really. A longer film could have included more of Murakami’s book and added more detail and explanation to things. As it stands, it’s a quite good effort but not what I had hoped for.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)