Review: Norwegian Wood

Murakami\’s coming-of-age novel dominated by prose detailing the thoughts of a wandering teenage boy has come to the big screen, and by necessity the thought-based book has been translated into a much quieter piece of cinema. With the exception of the odd voiceover we rarely delve into Watanabe\’s mind, instead we are introduced to his character as if we had known him for years. The drama begins immediately with the story\’s influential suicide from which most of the film\’s tension can be traced.

\’Drama\’ is definitely the right word. Perhaps it was the age at which I read the novel, or the state of mind I was in at the time, but I always remembered this one to be at least mildly uplifting in its affirmation of living. The beauty of one\’s youthful years, the power of simple music – these are the type of things that resonated with me when I read Norwegian Wood. You\’d be forgiven for expecting something similar from the film\’s stills – its sets and scenery are quite remarkable. I never realised how stunningly green and vast Japan\’s countryside is, and here we soak it up through the seasons. Add this to the youthful faces on screen, all gifted with the smoothest of skin and the most entrancing of smiles: the visuals are truly in the territory of the divine.

And yet the tone, again, is surprisingly dark. I stress that I need to revisit the novel, because whilst it is undoubtedly true that other Murakami works set around sexual relationships are often solemn, I remembered Norwegian Wood to be a lot less heavy in that respect. Here, however, the pain is clear and real. Watanabe finds himself in a situation where he truly loves a sweet but mentally fragile woman living outside of Tokyo whilst he studies part-time in the city. However, he is similarly warmed by another girl he comes across who is, in contrast, free from emotional trauma. For reasons related to his past, his loyalties lie with the former, but without any suggestion of egoism or cold-heartedness he finds himself wedged between the two, unsure of what he himself wants out of the unstable situation.

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The sexual encounters and overtones are as frequent and intense as I expected, and the intimacy between the characters is conveyed surprisingly well. When the credits roll, however, and that beautiful Beatles song starts playing, it feels strangely out of place, even if it shares a name with the film and is the inspiration for its title. The song feels too full of joy for what we have seen, even if it\’s obvious how apt the lyrics are. The song, novel and film all centre around cryptic women, and all are beautiful and reflective in their own right. It is the film, however, that cuts deeper and is cinema at its very best, capable of combining dialogue, song and image into an overpowering whole.