Director Tran Anh Hung’s adaptation of cult author Haruki Murakami’s bestselling 1987 novel Norwegian Wood demands patience from the viewer – patience with the film’s glacially slow pace, and patience with the introspective heart-searching of its young protagonists.
Set against the backdrop of late-1960s student unrest, the story follows the no less turbulent love life of Tokyo undergraduate Watanabe (Matsuyama Kenichi), who struggles to resolve his feelings for two very different young women – the troubled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and the free-spirited Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).
Watanabe feels bound to Naoko by a tragic event in their final year of school, but this shared loss makes it impossible for them to forge a successful relationship. Naoko ends up in a sanatorium, but when Watanabe meets breezy teenager Midori, his complicated ties with Naoko stand in the way of a future with the younger girl.
Murakami’s bestselling 1987 novel Norwegian Wood was long thought unfilmable, but French-Vietnamese filmmaker Tran does an impressive job of translating the author’s dense and poetic first-person narrative to the screen. With so much going on inside the characters’ heads, Tran has to find ways of conveying their confused emotions. He’s helped by sympathetic performances by his attractive young leads (all pin-ups in their native Japan), by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score, and by Mark Lee Ping Bin’s beautiful cinematography, which makes a series of striking landscapes – from a rocky shoreline to wind-swept grasslands – a mirror for the lovers’ inner torment.
Released by Soda Pictures on 11th March.