Based on the popular novel of the same name by Haruki Marukami, Norwegian Wood is a stunningly powerful and poetic tale of love and the loss of innocence.
Set in Japan in the late 1960s, we’re initially introduced to three best friends, Toru, Kizuki and Naoko. Toru (Ken’ichi Matsuyama), the narrator of the film, is best friends with Kizuki, whilst Kizuki and Naoko have been inseparable since the age of three. When Kizuki (Kengo Kôra) kills himself at 17, Toru and Naoko are left to deal with the emotional consequences in their own way. Toru experiences a sense of dislocation and isolation at university, whilst Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) is much more fragile in the aftermath, eventually relocating to a sanatorium in the country. Nevertheless, the affection between the two of them grows. Toru and Naoko’s blossoming love is marred by the memory of Kizuki, so that even their happiest moments are tinged with grief. At the same time, Toru meets the upbeat yet intense Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), who expresses an interest in him even though she’s seeing someone else.
The film beautifully recreates the look and feel of the 1960s, and whilst I wasn’t actually present in that decade to verify this with any sense of authority, I think I can safely say that it is more accurate than the depiction presented in X-Men: First Class. The performances are excellent. Toru frustrates if only because he has a tendency to be passive, but for better or worse does take decisive steps at certain points in the narrative. Rinko Kikuchi (best known from her work in Babel) matches child-like innocence with ultra severe depression, whilst Kiko Mizuhara plays the enigmatic Midori wondrously. These three distinct personalities make for a rollercoaster of dramatic viewing.
The film is a perfect blend of the subtle and the melodramatic, and Radiohead keyboardist Jonny Greenwood’s score is pitch perfect. In fact, it pretty much equals his work for There Will Be Blood. One particular scene of grief in this film is scored in such a harrowing discordant manner that the mood becomes almost horrifying, in what has to be one of the most incredible depictions of sorrow ever put to screen.
Norwegian Wood is a wonderfully emotive and insightful film, and a brilliant study of the human condition. Its slow pacing isn’t for everyone, however, and you’d have to be in the right mood before sitting down to its 133 minute running time. The film didn’t drag for me, but I had come fully prepared for a marathon drama. I can’t imagine being in the right mood to sit through it again for at least a year or so.
Masterful direction and beautiful, understated cinematography make for fine viewing with Norwegian Wood, but it’s the trio of wonderfully drawn, oh-so-human characters that make for supremely compelling viewing.Rating: