Harvey Critic - 27/12

Review, Norwegian Wood

"Norwegian Wood" has been a wildly popular novel, though a moviegoer, seeing the filmed adaptation, may wonder what the excitement is all about. Perhaps this is a work that should be read, not seen on the screen, for its lyrical writing which includes statements like this: "I read Naoko's letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with the same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it." What comes across in the film, however, is an overlong, tepid treatment of young love and sexuality, though the performers are appealing enough and the scenes of rural Japan, particularly one shot by cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin of raging water, are almost enough to warrant seeing the movie.

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Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: C+
Director: Tran Anh Hung
Screenwriter: Tran Anh Hung from Haruki Murakami's novel
Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara, Reika Hirishima, Kengo Kora, Eriko Hatsune, Tetsuji Tamayama
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 12/20/11
Opens: January 6, 2012

Tran Anh Hung, whose previous directing efforts have included "The Scene of Green Papaya," about a man's relationship with a pianist, seems intent to remain loyal to the book, as he has his performers deliver long quotes from letters exchanged between a 19-year-old man and his 19-year-old girlfriend. The story finds Toro Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) hanging out with his best friend, Kizuki (Kengo Kora) and Kizuki's g.f., Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). When Kizuki commits suicide by carbon monoxide (unmotivated except for the idea that suicide seems fashionable in Japan), Naoko is so devastated that she withdraws into herself, ultimately turning institutionalized schizophrenic--all during a romantic relationship with Watanabe. Her big complaint is "I can't get wet." Watanabe is of no help there. Is suicide by dryness on the horizon?

The entire tale is Watanabe's look back to his days as a college freshman in Tokyo in 1969, the drifting memory inspired by his listening to a recording of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" ("I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me"). Watanabe's memory takes him into a second relationship, one with the outgoing, self-assured Midori (Kiko Mazuhara), who has to be convinced that Watanabe has gotten over his longing for Naoko. Sexuality is perpetually on the minds of author and director, who note that one young man boasts of sleeping with 70 women, and even an institutionalized music teacher insists on having sex with Watanabe. Long live the last sixties!

Unrated. 133 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.


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