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Norwegian Wood

Posted by martinteller on March 12, 2011

I had hoped after the extremely messy I Come With the Rain, this would be a return to the Anh Hung Tran who made the masterpieces The Scent of Green Papaya and The Vertical Ray of the Sun.  I had also hoped that it would live up to the promise of the other Murakami adaptation I’ve seen, Tony Takitani.  It doesn’t reach those heights, but it’s good.  I did attempt to read the novel (my first Murakami) beforehand, but I only got 100 pages into it before it was due back at the library.  But I read enough to know that there is, by necessity for a 2-hour movie, a lot of material cut, and ultimately the film’s greatest failing is that it doesn’t do enough to establish character.  Midori, for example, is far more fleshed out in the book compared to the barely-there character she is in this film.  The rooftop scene is, sadly, nowhere to be seen.

But let’s talk about the positives.  The cast contains some of Japan’s brightest young actors, whose credits are too numerous to mention but include some of the best films to come out of that country in the past 10 years (including two of my favorites, Linda Linda Linda and Who’s Camus Anyway?).  Unfortunately they don’t have enough character development to work with, but they make the most of it, particularly Rinko Kikuchi (who will be familiar to many from Babel).  The Johnny Greenwood score is interesting, although occasionally overbearing with the screechy violins.  I also enjoyed the Can-heavy soundtrack.  And the cinematography of Ping Bin Lee, who shot Vertical Ray among many other amazing-looking films, is glorious.  The celluloid is painted with warm yellows, cool blues and lush greens.  The camera casually glides around, picking up details, and results in some terrific shots.

I really, really wanted to love this movie, but despite its assets it doesn’t have the transcendent qualities of Tran’s finest work, so I have to go with “like it a lot”.  Although it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story about emotional responsibility in the age of the sexual revolution, I feel that at best it’s a companion piece to the novel… which I hope to get back to soon.  Rating: 8


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