Adapted from Murakami Haruki‘s fifth novel, Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori), by director Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya, Vertical Rays of the Sun) explores the trauma of a friend’s suicide. Kizuki (Kôra Kengo and his girlfriend Naoko (Kikuchi Rinko [Babel]) had been bosom buddies since childhood into high school. Another friend of the two, (sometimes narrator) Watanabe (Matsuyama Ken’ichi) went off to Tokyo University. By chance Watanabe and Naoko meet amidst political turbulence in Tokyo of the late 1960s and have sex on Naoko’s twentieth birthday, after which she checks herself into a secluded mountain sanatorium (deeply depressed, she does not want to follow Kizuki into death).
Watanabe meets another girl, Midori (Mizuhara Kiko), who is quite vivacious and self-confident. Delighted as he is by Midori, he continues to visit Naoko and to entertain the notion that he belongs with/to her. (After their first kiss, Midori tells him she has a boyfriend.) There is yet another blocked romance for Watanabe with Naoko’s sanitarium friend Reiko (Kirishima Reika) who both sings and plays Naoko’s favorite song, “Norwegian Wood” for the visiting Watanabe and Naoko.
Rather than a Beatles or Beatles-inflected soundtrack (though the title song is the original Beatles’ recording), the movie has an overly insistent (intrusive) one by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. The framing of shots by cinematographer Lee Piun-Bing also calls attention to itself along with quite gorgeous colors. Especially in the last third of the movie, beautiful images (especially falling snow) all but supplant the rather wooden performances of listless characters in a turgid, long (133-minute) tale of frustrated love that retained none of Murakami’s humor, any of the older Watanabe’s perspective in the novel, or any of Watanabe’s occasional youthful relations.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray
Murakami Haruki (1949-) has often before frustrated me. Despite my suspicions, I was drawn into his story in the 10/14/2014 New Yorker, “Scheherazade,” though its title did not reassure me. I was not surprised at the lack of a real ending—it is a New Yorker story, it is Murakami. Why the narrator is seemingly imprisoned in a house (supplied with food, books, DVDs, CDs) remains a mystery and after a petering-out ending, there is a teaser that there is more to the story. Perhaps, some day Murakami will continue the story of Scheherazade and the boy with whom she was obsessed when she was 17, breaking into (well using a not very hidden key to get into) his bedroom and “trading” objects, before stealing a sweat-drenched t-shirt from the dirty clothes hamper downstairs. She also recalls an earlier life as a lamprey eel, and provides Habara, the narrator, with regular sex, though it is only impassioned after she tells him about the once-fetishized t-shirt.
I’m starting to think of story endings as like dismounts in gymnastics, that is, as difficult as the routine and often muffed. I wouldn’t say that Haruki Murakami muffs the ending or stumbles at the inconclusive finish of his story in the current 6/9/2014) New Yorker, “Yesterday,” but, like so many New Yorker stories as to be a hallmark of a “New Yorker story,” there is not a solid ending Murakami provides some entertainment along the way with quirky characters and odd situations. I was particularly amused by the narrator’s response to his friend’s speculations about desires (the friend’s): “Other people’s masturbation habits were beyond me. There were things about my own that I couldn’t fathom.” (The statement amuses me: though I may not fathom why others desire what they do, I am fascinated by trying to understand how the desires of others go. I am more frustrated at not being able to explain and generalize.)
Murakami’s “A Shingawa Monkey”(in 3/19/2007 New Yorker) has an epiphany (after a surprise to the problem of Mizuki Ando’s disconcertingly difficulty remembering her name.
I have read a couple of Harukami novels, but not written about them.
I am holding off beginning a trek through the often frustrating movies made by Ôshima Nagasi for a week during which I’ll be traveling.