Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jmovie review: Norwegian Wood

I had read many good things about this movie long time ago but for some reason its taken me so long to get to watching it. Norwegian Wood tells the story about Toru (Matsuyama Kenichi) whose best friend commits suicide in high school. He changes school and while in university in Tokyo he runs into Naoko (Kikuchi Rinko), the girlfriend of Toru's deceased best friend and they start hanging out together. While Toru and Naoko are bound by the act of suicide, it seems like Naoka has yet to get over the past.

First of, the acting in Norwegian Wood is godlike. Kikuchi Rinko is awesome and should be the highest paid actress in Japan. There is a 5 minute one shot scene with her walking back and forth in the early morning which is one par with the hallway fight scene in Old Boy except there's no violence in it but heart wrenching emotional pain. Matsuyama Kenichi is good as well but he's not on that Abe Hiroshi able to elevate anything level. I'm not to hot on the story but the acting just kept me glued to the screen. Props to Hatsune Eriko as well as the suffering girlfriend of the playboy Nagasawa.

There was something about the directing that went above the usual jmovie stuff and surprise, it was directed by a French director of Vietnamese descent. What was shocking was it was the same director of 'I come with the rain', a pretentious arthouse style movie with some big names that tried to be something above convention but turned into a jumbled mess of nothing. Before I get to the spoiler stuff about why I didn't really get the story, I must reiterate that if you are a Jmovie fan, its worth watching for the acting alone.


Norwegian Wood is basically guy (Toru) and girl (Naoko) have a traumatic experience, meet up later, fall in love but girl is mentally unstable from trauma. Guy is compelled to not abandon girl like his best friend did and at the same time is discovering sexuality. Guy meets another girl, Midori who like him has a lover she is unable to have sex with though for different reasons and they both hook up. Naoko reveals her guilt over Kizuki's suicide and in the end commits suicide herself. Toru in the end decides to hook up with Midori.

The storyline of course is not that simple. There are a lot of issues explored in the movie like what is love and what is devotion to a person to the point of disregarding self? The relationship between sex and love and all that stuff. Interesting stuff to be sure but somehow I felt that there was something missing in the narrative. Looked up the wiki for the novel it is based on and immediately saw what was missing.

According to the wiki, Midori is 'everything that Naoko is not — outgoing, vivacious, supremely self-confident.' Watching the movie, I never saw Midori as the opposite of Naoko. She was to me a distraction and a mirror image of Toru. Even more is missing from the movie: 'Reiko talks about her search for sexual identity, and Naoko talks about the unexpected suicide of her older sister several years ago.' WTF isn't this in the movie? I can think of lots of things to cut out or they could have added 10 minutes to the running time.

Here's more: 'Now back in Tokyo, Toru unintentionally alienates Midori through both his lack of consideration of her wants and needs, and his continuing thoughts about Naoko. He writes a letter to Reiko, asking for her advice about his conflicted affections for both Naoko and Midori. He doesn't want to hurt Naoko, but he doesn't want to lose Midori either. Reiko counsels him to seize this chance for happiness and see how his relationship with Midori turns out.'

WTF is the Toru alienating Midori bit. There's only this scene at a bar where he sort of rejects her request for sex. If anything, the movie is more about Toru trying to call Midori after that and she not answering the phone and ignoring him in public.

Reading the novel summary, I can see what the story was supposed to be about. Naoko vs Midori. Naoko the troubled girl that Toru is compelled/obligated to protect and Midori this confident girl who has problems of her own but she is able to face them head on. The movie gave me Naoko as a very nice but mentally damaged girl and Midori as someone who is doing to Toru what he is doing to Naoko. The Midori in the movie doesn't strike me as 'outgoing, vivacious, supremely self-confident'. She sort of is but not in a way that made me think, ah, she's the other side of coin compared to Naoko.

I'm bloody tempted to get the book and have a read. The summary in the wiki and the movie I saw are different in their points of emphasis. Perhaps this is one of those movies that I will never understand like No Country for Old Man. However, until I read the book I can never be sure.


Sonnaaaaa~ said...

Norwegian Wood is my favorite book in the universe. I think I've read it about ten times. That being said, I'm terrified of watching the movie because I don't think it'll live up to my expectations.

I don't think of the book as Midori versus Naoko, I think of it as more Toru versus himself. He's in this sort of world where everything and everyone is constantly changing and at times he feels like he's living in his own personal swamp (his words not mine). He's halfway clinging on to two words: the Kyoto he left behind when his friend died and the vibrant Tokyo with Midori and Nagasawa.

I'm supremely surprised that you did a review of NW and didn't mention Storm Trooper or Nagasawa. They're part of the push and pull of NW. It's like writing about the Queen's classroom without mentioning any of Shida Mirai's close classmates or GOLD without Amami Yuki's husband.

Anonymous said...

the movie is stuck on my hard drive. i plan to read the book first and will check the movie. based on my track record bout book reading, it seems that it will take a long time for me to watch the movie. but reading at Sonnaaa's comment, looks like i have to start to read the book now.

maiku said...

@Sonnaaaaa~ Norwegian Wood is one of the few novels I've re-read. Amazing book! You should definitely see the film. It does a good job of capturing the overall vibe and themes of the novel. For me, the two mediums are so different that one couldn't ruin the other. If you're still hesitant, I read Murakami himself was involved with the script.

(BTW, from what I recall there was virtually no Storm Trooper.)

Jung said...

I read the book about a year ago. Movie... a minute ago. So I won't nitpick things. Clearly, the movie was not meant to reproduce the book in slavish fashion, which is fine by me.

Unfortunately the only person who acted well in this movie is Hatsune Eriko.

Just about everybody else was a mis-cast, particularly Kikuchi Rinko. She killed the movie for me. I think she overdid the neurotic fragile acting. Her strong mask doesn't help the cause either.

Iono... maybe it's because I watched Zeni Geba and Moteki. lolz...

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

I saw this in the cinema and thought it was simply dreadful (especially in light of the fact that I paid a relatively large amount of money for the privilege of watching it). The characters either have sex or talk about having sex, and it feels like that's about all there is to the story. It just completely overwhelms the movie and pushes aside everything else.

eliza bennet said...

The book is one of my all time favorites and I probably is one of those hard to film novels.

I don't plan on watching the film since I just won't be able to handle an adaptation (even though I do like the director's films - haven't seen I Come With The Rain yet but I understand it is universally hated)

maiku said...

Kind of agree about the sex. The early parts didn't bother me so much but the later ones in the snow were weird. Ruined some gorgeous outdoor scenes.

Akiramike said...

Sonnaaaa don't know about who stormtrooper is but I guess I didn't mention Nagasawa cause he's not a character I didn't get.

I can't see the movie as Toru vs himself because Matsuyama Kenichi sort of goes through the movie with the same expression. I couldn't see his thought process in his acting.

Eliza, avoid I come with the Rain at all costs.

rainie said...

I read the book first before i watched the movie and the movie was kind of crap. It's boring! Seriously. There's a whole lot more awesome stuff in the novel which is very important to the story that they didn't include in the movie. Matsuyama and Kikuchi kind of fail as Watanabe and Naoko. It didn't goes as my interpretation/imagination of the characters. Don't get me wrong. I love both Matsuyama and Kikuchi but i don't think they're suitable for Watanabe and Naoko =/
Storm Trooper is the nickname for Watanabe's roomate and he's the source of laughter in the novel. I just love his character and it such a shame they didn't include that in the movie.
Anyway, you should read the novel because it's different from the movie and definitely awesome =)

p/s: sorry for my crappy engrish. hope you can understand what i'm trying to say >.<