Review: Norwegian Wood

Sometimes there are films that you will watch with an open mind and come out of the cinema feeling you had watched a fair film. But often those films are cleverer than they look, leaving you mulling over the characters and the plot. On occasion, the film might not have been the most enjoyable, but the cinematography may have been something to marvel.

Japanese film Norwegian Wood is a classic example. Based on Haruki Murakami’s bestselling novel of the same name; the film follows the curious life of Toru Wantanabe (Matsuyama) in the 1960’s, whose best friend commits suicide during high school. By chance, whilst studying at university in Tokyo a few years later, he meets his deceased friend’s girlfriend; the timid and fragile Naoko (Kikuchi). But as she falls into depression and seals herself away from the world, Toru cannot help but be drawn to the confident Midori (Mizuhara). An intriguing and complex love triangle ensues with heartbreaking consequences.

For many years the source book was left untouched with the fear of a film doing the classic little, if any justice. However, director Tran Anh Hung has done a good job at portraying the iconic book with beautifully stark landscapes accompanying the strong cast. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2010 and since then has been nominated for several awards worldwide. Norwegian Wood isn’t a film to take lightly, as the subject of depression and suicide is dealt with head on. Some viewers will sympathise with Naoko’s condition whilst others will empathise, and it’s perhaps that fine line which will divide audiences.

Some of Naoko’s darkest moments are incredibly moving and the resulting performance by Kikuchi, is nothing short of spectacular. Her echoing screams of guilt and tears of desperation are believable, and it’s perhaps because of this that little compassion is felt towards Mizuhara’s character of Midori. Compared to Toru and Naoko she is underdeveloped as a character, yet appears to be the strongest and outspoken of the three. But despite that, the acting is superb and Matsuyama (who is probably most famous for his role as L in the Death Note live-action movies), handles the lead role incredibly well, especially towards the end of the film where his grief overwhelms him.

Try not to let the depressing undertones of this film put you off. It has to be one of the most beautifully made films in recent years, with some stunning shots of open fields, condensed forests and winter tundra’s. Not just that, but Hung really plays on the senses, leaving the audience the urge to reach out and touch the soft snow or a tree’s bark. The way the film is shot is probably the best reason to watch this film, although the soundtrack does play a key role. Fans of The Beatles will know that ‘Norwegian Wood’ is a title of one of their tracks. Sadly, the song only plays at the end, but throughout the film you will hear a contrast of soft acoustic guitars crafted together with strong chords to remind you of the 1960’s setting.

Norwegian Wood is out now and is a fascinating film in terms of breathtaking cinematography and moving acting. Perhaps the film is a little too slow for the taste of some people, but it is most certainly worth a watch.  But be warned – those prone to tears had better be prepared with a box of tissues.

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