Norwegian Wood (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner11/03/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 133 mins

Norwegian Wood is beautifully shot and stays faithful to Murakami's novel but it's also slow-moving, meandering and difficult to engage with the seemingly subdued characters.

What's it all about?
Directed by Vietnamese filmmaker Anh Hung Tran, Norwegian Wood is based on the best-selling novel by Haruki Murakami. Set in Kobe, Japan in 1967, the film stars Kenichi Matsuyama as Watanabe, a 19-year-old Japanese student who falls for his friend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, from The Brothers Bloom) after the suicide of their mutual friend (and Naoko's boyfriend) Kizuki (Kengo Kora); despite their mutual attraction, this only makes things worse for Naoko and she flees to a remote sanatorium in the country.

Watanabe's skirt-chasing roommate Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) attempts to cheer him up by dragging him to nightclubs to meet girls and Watanabe soon starts dating attractive fellow student Midori (model Kiko Mizuhara, in her screen debut). However, when he finds that he can't commit to the relationship because of his feelings for Naoko, and on visiting her in the sanatorium things only seem to get worse.

The Good
The film is beautifully shot, with Mark Lee Ping Bin's stunning cinematography making full use of the Japanese countryside throughout the various seasons: the scenes in the snow are particularly striking. There's also a superb score by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead’s lead guitarist) and a welcome appearance from the titular Beatles song (sung by one of the characters) at around the halfway point.

Rinko Kikuchi is excellent as the troubled Naoko and there's strong support from Mizuhara as Midori and Reika Kirishima as Naoko's older roommate Reiko. Kenichi Matsuyama is equally good as Watanabe but his character is subdued and introspective (as befits the novel's interior monologue) throughout and it's hard to engage with him as a result.

The Bad
The main problem is that there's not enough plot to sustain such a lengthy running screen time. It's also extremely slow and has a frustrating tendency to meander all over the place without anything really happening on screen. Worse, when something does happen (such as the student riots in 1968), the film studiously ignores whatever's going on, which seems a rather heavy-handed way of hammering home the self-absorption of the lead character.

Worth seeing?
Beautifully shot, superbly acted and featuring a terrific score, Norwegian Wood is extremely faithful to Murakami's novel but it's hard to engage with the slow-moving story and subdued characters.

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Content updated: 18/10/2017 06:50

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