'Norwegian Wood' engaging

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

The torture of young love is at the centre of Norwegian Wood, a film version of Haruki Murakami's best-selling novel.

Set in the 1960s and steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood is an angsty (albeit sensual) tale of great love and great loss. The central character, Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is surrounded by fragile companions.

The story opens in 1967. At 17, Watanabe, his friend Kizuki and Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko are inseparable friends; they do everything together, so Kizuki's death is shattering to Watanable and devastating to Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). Naoko is left without her soulmate.

At university (and against a backdrop of student unrest), Watanabe and Naoko get together as friends and eventually as lovers. Then Naoko moves away, and Watanabe doesn't know where she is for a while. She has never really got over the death of Kizuki, and there is other drama in her past.

In the meantime, Watanabe meets Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), an outgoing young woman in one of his classes. Midori is full of life, funny and attractive to be around. Watanabe is attracted to Midori, but she claims to have a boyfriend.

Eventually, he catches up to Naoko, who is living in an institution of sorts in the mountains. At this retreat he meets Naoko's roommate Reiko (Reika Kirishima), a musician who, like Naoko, has serious psychological problems.

Watanabe determines never to abandon Naoko, but as time passes, he finds himself torn between Naoko and Midori.

There is a lot more suffering for love and general despair to endure before Watanabe moves reluctantly into adult life.

Norwegian Wood is a memoir of heartbreak and premature death, and all of it mixed up with the emotions of first love and passion. The film is slow, intense and visually engaging, but the emotional elements of the story are flattened somehow in the transformation from page to screen. It's the usual problem of how differently each medium engages the imagination. Still, it's a mesmerizing picture, at least until the tragedies begin to pile up to an alarming degree. The characters are often in adoring close-up, the cinematography is painterly and the music (from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood) is haunting in the best way; the trouble in all this beauty is the Romeo and Juliet-ish body count. A twentysomething viewer seems the most likely audience.

Norwegian Wood (the novel) was eventually translated into 33 languages around the globe. The movie is in Japanese, with English subtitles.

 


Videos

Photos