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.
SPOILERS DO NOT READ FURTHER ON
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.