With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

ACF 1292: NORWEGIAN WOOD opens Friday in NY and D.C.

Norwegian Wood / Noruwei no mori
Directed by TRAN Anh Hung
Starring Kenichi MATSUYAMA, Rinko KIKUCHI & Kiko  MIZUHARA
Japan, 2010, 133 minutes

Norwegian Wood is the latest film from director TRAN Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya, 1993, and Cyclo, 1995). He also wrote the screenplay, which is based on the bestselling novel of the same name written by Haruki Murakami and originally published in two volumes in 1987. TRAN's film will open in the U.S. this Friday, December 6th, 2012, in New York and in Washington, D.C. It will open in other cities over the following weeks. (The release schedule and other information about the film is available at the Norwegian Wood official website.)

Toru Watanabe and Naoko celebrate her 20th birthday

Kenichi MATSYYAMA, who played L, the young super-sleuth with a sweet tooth in the three Death Note movies and Soichi Negishi/Johannes Krauser II in Detroit Metal City, here stars as Toru Watanabe, a youth trying to find his way through his personal turmoil in the late 1960s and early '70s. Rinko KIKUCHI (The Taste of Tea, Funky Forest: The First ContactBabel) is Naoko, the troubled young woman who was the girlfriend of Watanabe's best friend and with whom Watanabe has a "complicated" relationship. Kiko MIZUHARA (who really makes her mark in this, her first, film) portrays Midori, a lively free spirit who has a boyfriend of her own but who also clearly has a "thing" for Watanabe.

I saw Norwegian Wood at a pre-release screening at Japan Society last month. (For my comments in ACF 1280, click here.) At that time the only book I had read by Haruki Murakami (I use his full name, so there is no confusing him  with Ryo Murakami, another contemporary Japanese author) was Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which incidentally is a terrific read. I was so taken with the film that I bought a copy of Norwegian Wood (which was on my "read sometime" list anyway) and proceeded to "devour" it.

Watanabe and Midori

The popularity of the book is clear from the facts that it has sold upwards of 10 million copies in Japan and 2.6 million copies overseas. It has been published in 36 countries and translated in 33 languages. The first English translation authorized by the author for publication outside Japan (the one I read) is by Jay Rubin and is published by Vintage Books, which also publishes several other of Haruki Murakami's books.

Director Tran pursued the project of making it into a film for several years. When he was on the verge of giving up on it, producer Shinji Ogawa contacted him and they began discussing the direction of a film adaptation. Subsequently they met the author and submitted a first  draft of the screenplay to him. In an interview, TRAN has said that Murakami provided "many notes, including dialogue not included in his original book." After writing a second darft based on the author's input, TRAN was free to revise the screenplay as he saw fit.

Director TRAN Anh Hung

The result is a coming of age story that is engrossing, compelling, and emotionally powerful. The cast, which also includes Reika Kirishima (Versus) as Reiko, a music instructor in her late 30s, is universally superb. The photography of Mark LEE Ping Bin is remarkable, often far more lovely than what one expect in a movie shot on video, not film. And overseeing it all is the sure hand and sensitive heart of director TRAN.

Much of the subject matter of the film is quite serious, sometimes devastating, like a sharp jab to one's gut or a cold hand firmly squeezing your heart. Given this, the film's over two hour running time, and the demands of reading subtitles, Norwegian Wood is not an easy, casual watch. Approach it ready for an intense experience, and you'll be well-rewarded for your time and effort. I believe it will prove to be equally satisfying for both those who have previously read the book and those who have not.

In sum, Norwegian Wood is a beautifully shot, masterful cinematic rendition of one of the most internationally beloved contemporary Japanese novels. 4 out of 4 stars, highest recommendation.


  1. I loved the novel and loved the movie too. It's always very hard make a movie based on a novel but the work of Tran is excellent: the story of a great youthful discomfort.
    The newest Murakami's novel, 1Q84 is wonderful too.

  2. Except for 1Q84, which I haven't read yet, I feel the same as you on all accounts. Tran did not include some lesser things from the novel, such as Watanabe's college roommate, Storm Trooper, but this is inevitable in adapting a novel for the screen. When I saw the film, I had a sense that the film probably was very faithful to the book, and reading the book impressed me with just how true this is.

  3. Anonymous6:14 PM

    Thanks for the good review, when all the other critics are dissing this movie. I saw this movie and loved it. I'm recommending it all over the place. I've read Murakami but not the Wood novel, it's on the list. I will see this movie again. Thanks once again for not being a movie snob On another note I read an interview with Rinko and she said she is playing a witch in 47 Ronin, did I read that right?

  4. She's playing a character named Mizuki, a lady who serves Lord Kira, the villain of the tale. The film, which will be in 3D, is scheduled to be released on November 21, 2012.