I read Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood when I was about 17, during a ‘Japan phase’ which had been triggered by David Mitchell’s beguiling number9dream. Norwegian Wood is Murakami’s most successful novel; its themes of loss, repression, inexpression and, er, suicide lapped up by Japan’s disaffected youth; its cult hit status long secured with over 10 million copies sold in his native country alone. My adolescent self was nonplussed – no sign here of the flights of surrealism or labyrinthine plot structures which had originally drawn me to Murakami’s writing. Convention, however well done, was of little interest.
Similarly, Anh Hung Tran’s film version left me unexcited despite its undoubted merits. You can tell the original book is heavy on introspection: occasionally Murakami’s plot gives rise to a scene which Tran can make cinematically interesting (an early car-based suicide is a good example) but for the most part it’s all stares into the middle distance and long, mournful shots of admittedly gorgeous countryside. On three occasions Tran brings the film’s score to a jarring and abrupt end at the point of a change of scene. I couldn’t work out why, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was an attempt to impose some stylistic imprint, to jolt the film into life – to do something, anything, with such unhelpful source material.
The two female leads are very watchable, with their different but equally interesting faces – especially angsty Rinko Kikuchi, last seen in Inarritu’s Babel nailing much the same character. Less successful was Kenichi Matsuyama’s protagonist who, in an incredible parallel with Animal Kingdom’s James Frecheville, spent the whole film looking far too gormless with the exception of one sobbing scene in which he let himself loose but only succeeded in producing more spittle than tears. Hopefully when both films have been out a little longer, I’ll be able to find these two routines online and display them side by side as an uncanny actalike.
Meanwhile, someone should make a film of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle…