Sunday, 6 March 2011

Norwegian Wood review (The List, issue 678)

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has a unique voice in contemporary fiction, both hugely imaginative and intensely intimate. But with this adaptation of one of his most popular books, French-Vietnamese filmmaker Anh Hung Tran fails to find a way to successfully translate that voice into substantial and effective cinema. The story of directionless Japanese student Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), and the relationships he pursues with Naoko (Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi) and Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) while at university in the late 60s is one of Murakami’s more straightforwardly accessible plots, but as retold by Tran it is ponderous, slight and, when stretched over two hours, painfully dull.

The director’s ability to create striking visuals is undeniable, and the film is graced with many beautiful, sensual moments, made all the more lovely by the fine soundtrack from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. But Tran’s willfully opaque screenplay means that enjoyment of the film remains at this surface level throughout. There are weighty themes to the story – death and love, the possibility of connection – but Tran’s determinedly contemplative approach, complete with sluggish pacing and intensely internalised performances, ironically only serves to keep the audience at arm’s length from the story’s emotional core.

Norwegian Wood is released on 11 March. This review first published in The List magazine.

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