However, while Naoko’s struggle, as well as the sense of longing and time that come through in the book, only come through slightly in the movie, additional elements are added that create a slightly different, but equally interesting image of her. Namely this comes through in the uses of natural elements to convey a sense of purity that is associated with Naoko. In many scenes of Naoko and Watanabe-kun, a strong wind is blowing – swirling leaves, and whipping hair – which one can almost feel through the screen. While natural imagery such as strong rains or snow, from the book also works to emphasize feelings of purity and freshness, it is the scenes of wind that Hung inserts that best capture it, as if the characters surrounding her are being washed clean.
Along with Naoko, Midori’s character was also very well done and was incredibly intriguing to watch. In the film, her role in saving Watanabe-kun from his own mental darkness and a past which threatens to engulf his entirety comes through very clearly. It is a beautiful scene when, late in the film, Midori once again sits across from Watanabe and, without saying a word, extends her hand – a gesture of both peace and reconcilement, as well as acting as the arm that Watanabe-kun can grab onto before he falls into the dark.
While the music, with scores contributed by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, is exciting and original throughout most of the film, it suffers from one confusing stretch toward the end. While, instead of choosing to rely on rehashed “classics” from the 60s, Hung works with an film score constructed entirely for the film, that manages to incorporate many of the sounds – fuzzy, resonant guitars, muffled, distant drums, and confident, conflict ridden vocals, often associated with the era – while still managing to stay fresh and interesting. These are coupled with numerous montages, most of which focus on Watanabe-kun, and are used to emphasize his sense of loneliness and struggle. Only at one spot, that of Naoko’s death, does the soundtrack become confusing to the point that one might think it misplaced. Instead of the reverent silence, or quiet strings that are used elsewhere in the film, we are confronted with dark, foreboding sounds that would have been better placed in a horror or suspense film.
While, as many critics have pointed out to no end, the film is no book, Tran Anh Hung’s vision of Norwegian Wood is an interesting movie and well worth the watch. For those who haven’t read Haruki Murakami’s original, this could serve as a good stimulus to do so and, for those of us who have, could get us thinking about the characters and images in yet another way – something which is never a bad thing.
Title: ノルウェーの森 (Noruwee no Mori)
English Title: Norwegian Wood
Directed By: Tran Anh Hung
Starring: Kikuchi Rinko, Matsuyama Kenichi, Mizuhara Kiko
Tran Anh Hung’s take on Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Just as when a musician chooses to cover a very well-known song, a lot of people are going to be displeased when the song isn’t as they had wanted it to be – exactly the same as the original. Sometimes, however, an artist chooses to take someone else’s work and shape it into something a little different, something their own, something original. This isn’t to say that all of Hung’s portrayals in his version of Norwegian Wood are accurate, or even incredibly well done, but simply that the movie deserves to be judged as what it is – a movie – and not as what it isn't – a book.
While this article won’t touch on it in detail, Hung deserves great credit for his portrayal of 1960s Japan – especially the campus riots. For someone not familiar with the great violence and turmoil that took place during Japan’s campus riots, this film at least captures enough to serve as an excellent introduction. In addition to such scenery, the liberty that Hung takes in establishing some of the characters, even to the point of creating new thematic elements, as well as his use of juxtaposing some of the time sequences are refreshing and exciting to see in an era when film adaptations of books strive all too hard to become nothing more than a weak copy of the original. Moreover, the music, montages, and scenery all heighten a sense of attraction that helps pull the viewer into a world that varies between Murakami’s and Hung’s.
Unlike the run of the mill Lord of the Rings trilogy, Norwegian Wood doesn’t attempt to follow the book by constructing the same time sequence page for page. In choosing to take a bit of liberty with this, Hung avoids some of the major pitfalls that Lord of the Rings, for example, fell into – trying to portray everything, miserably running out of time, and being forced to cut entire scenes. One of the most powerful lines that the reader found at the beginning of the book instead comes toward the end of the film when Naoko asks Watanabe-kun her final and only favor: “I want you to remember, that I existed. Just like this, here with you. Promise me you won’t forget.”
Also incredibly interesting is the imagery that Hung uses to construct Naoko’s character. Unquestionably the most difficult character to portray from the book, one can only get a slight sense of the enormity of anguish and depth of mental struggle that Naoko goes through in the film.
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