Norwegian Wood

You Won't See Me.

Released in 2010, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 13 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
Norwegian Wood image

The latest film from lauded French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung is based on Haruki Murakami's 1987 novel, set in 1960's Japan where Tokyo seems to be less about swinging and being groovy to each other as it does mounting violent protest movements against 'the man'. Oooh, that 'man'.

Toru Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) isn't too interested in fermenting revolution, instead occupying himself by reading Western literature and wondering why his life-long best friend has topped himself. This draws him closer to said best friend's girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), at first to comfort and protect the girl after their loss, and later in a more romantic sense. Naoko, however, does not adapt to the loss of her lover well, becoming withdrawn, depressed and eventually checking herself into a sanitarium.

Continuing with his studies, while Toru claims to pine for Naoko this doesn't stop him making the moves on fellow student Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) once they cross paths. In theory, at least, this is supposed to trigger an emotional crisis for Toru as he struggles with his feelings for the troubled Naoko, rooted in tradgedies of the past, and Midori, looking forward to a brighter and happier future.

Or at least it would, if Toru wasn't an unholy, boring hybrid of a cardboard cutout and a wet blanket. I'm sure either I'm missing something, or this film has missed something from the novel. This seems in very large part to revolve around mentally ill Japanese people crying while a massively overbearing and irritating orchestral score screeches discordantly in the background. I'm sure the original novel did not reach the level of acclaim it has garnered from the above alone.

To be honest, I cannot remember much more of Norwegian Wood other than a very real feeling of intense boredom that grew increasingly unbearable over the four thousand hours this film droned on over. I'm left with no clear idea as to what Norweigan Wood is trying to say. That it's traumatic when people die? Thank you, Captain Obvious. There doesn't seem to be any wider application to society as a whole, or a parallel with social change and unheaval, or anything deeper than the surface tale of people with limited charm and motivations.

Our hero is, if you'll excuse my language, a complete pansy, who seems pyschologically incapable of taking responsibility for himself or his actions, or more frequently lack of action, and is consequently as engaging and dynamic a lead character as, say, a broomstick. Look at the events closer to the movie's conclusion, where, and apologies perhaps for any spoilers, Naoko's friend from the sanitarium shows up and, after some pleasantries, more or less demands that Toru play a game of hide-the-sausage. Toru seems to simply resign himself to this, although feeling conflicted about his feelings, as though he has no choice other than to dance the horizontal mambo. He very clearly does, by simply not taking tea with the parson with this near-stranger. Now, cynics would argue, cynically, that I'm only taking issue with this to break out a series of increasingly obscure euphamisms, which is a very cynical and accurate position to take.

If I'm looking for things to like, and I'm searching here, then there's the nicely handled setting of 60's Tokyo which seems authentic without resorting to nostalgia, although bear in mind that's coming from someone with no experience of 60's Tokyo. While it had been a cause for hope, Johnny Greenwood's involvement in the score doesn't achieve anywhere close to the successes of There Will Be Blood. Apparently I'm already out of things to like in the film.

From where I'm sitting, if you go down to Norwegian Woods today the only surprise you'll find is quite how upsettingly tedious the film is. It's a polished, considered slice of tedium, to be sure, but nonetheless so remarkably boring that there's little merit in sitting through it.

Tran Anh Hung
Cast list:
Ken'ichi Matsuyama (Toru)
Rinko Kikuchi (Naoko)
Kiko Mizuhara (Midori)