Love walks a long and winding road in the beautiful Japanese drama Norwegian Wood (2010)
I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
There are so few films in which a kiss feels real. So often they feel apathetic; like the obligation of a contract, or the sealing of a paycheck. If an actor is playing a character in love, should love not gleam from behind their eyes, which are, after all, the windows to the soul? There are so few films where I actually believe in love as something real, and something which exists in our world. Norwegian Wood, based on the 1987 novel by Haruki Murakami, is a film in which love feels real; a film which exudes passion and soul, but favours naturalism. The intensity to each moment, especially the lingering silences as characters lean in to kiss, is that rarest of things in the cinema - a moment which reflects life, and honestly.
The plot concerns three friends; Toru (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and Kizuki (Kengo Kôra). Upon hearing The Beatles 'Norwegian Wood' Toru remembers back to his youth in the early 1960's, when Kizuki committed suicide and he fell in love with Naoko. Yet the couple's grief sends them in different directions, and Toru also falls for a young woman named Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), with whom he has an on/off relationship. I haven't read Murakami's source novel, so can't comment on Norwegian Wood as an adaptation, but the screenplay is layered and subtle, and I would hope that the text has been translated well. The film is a masterclass in muted emotion, with dialogue used sparingly enough for the audience to recognise its importance.
Where the film falls down is in its aesthetic, which is beautiful, but a little too formal for my tastes. So many shots seem to have been composed with artistry in mind, positioning characters in the center-right of the frame, intensely staring at each other while the deep focus photography heightens their surroundings. It's a very static film, and many of its images would feel more at home in an art gallery. If its compositions weren't so rigid Norwegian Wood might have been a great film, but too often I was distracted by the background, which Tran seems overly concerned with. Jonny Greenwood's score is also a problem, as it frequently sounds like he's still orchestrating There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007), and tonal shifts created via music seem out of synch with the onscreen action. Still, the performances are outstanding. They portray love as something intangible and painful, which I appreciate, because that's exactly what it is.
DP Ping Bin Lee is well served here; the Blu-Ray looks beautiful, and is definitely my preferred format for watching the film. The extras are pretty decent too. You have your standard stuff - trailer and a poster gallery - but also a sufficient Making Of doc and footage from premieres, including Japan and Venice. Nothing to set the world on fire, but it's more than I'd expected, and rounds off the package nicely.