Norwegian Wood_Kiko Mizuhara tank top, Kenichi Matsuyama_Image credit Soda Pictures © 2011 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Norwegian Wood: Hipsters Unmaxed

Does Japanese period costume reflect on contemporary fashion? French born writer Aurélie Coulibaly appraises the hipster style of Norwegian Wood.

Youth, love, Japan, 1960s; Norwegian Wood (2010, directed by Anh Hung Tran) is a fable on loss and growing up. Set from the summer of ’67 through to a spring morning just a few years later, somewhere between child and adulthood, we meet an assorted group of angelic characters to move any sensitive soul.

We are in Tokyo, and along with the hectic political context of students’ protests against established order, alternatively contemplating tormented Naoko (Rinko Kikushi) and youthful Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) in their intense, yet poetic relationship with Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama). All are beautiful and secretive, ethereally flowing over the troubled waters of adolescence. Costume designer Yen Khe Luguern (first credit for a feature movie) selected different characteristics of 60?s fashion to subtly highlight the protagonists’ personalities. Khe Luguern’s universe successfully creates a bridge between the captivating calmness of the Japanese and their present-day community of emo teenagers.

Toru is a quiet idealist. He is portrayed wearing the classic sixties style of wide-collared or sporty polo shirts, flared jeans or fitted pants belted at the waist and Converse basketball shoes. His simple apparel is, in fact, surprisingly modern and we are bound to observe just how much the 1960s have impacted on today’s young male wardrobe: the trendy ‘vintage’ look, casual clothing, narrow formal pants and fitted white shirt buttoned down the front. Yet his costume does not conform to stereotypes. The sixties also witnessed the birth of tight-fitting men’s suits and thin neckties, along with turtlenecks; men’s dress in general became more fancy and feminine. Toru’s unpretentious and discreet garments, beyond accurately depicting the era, illustrate his reserved and charming nature.

Emotionally unstable Naoko wears the typical post-Hippie look of the time: undisciplined long hair, comfy knitted beanies, warm wool scarves, rounded cute collar shirts – ‘col Claudine’, chiffon skirts above the knee and no artifice in plain cotton and pastel colours. Naoko is tormented, struggling to find herself after considerable grief and a confused sexuality. Sadness and loss reflect on costume; her attire is ample and soft.

We cannot help but link Naoko’s costumes to Lou Ye’s heroine Wang (Xueyun Bai) in Summer Palace (2006, directed by Ye Lou), a Chinese production with costume design by Katja Kurn, where similar compulsive and obsessive passions drive a young and inexperienced student through an intense love story. Although the film is set in the 1980s, it is difficult not to notice a similar gentle, light and sensible use of costume to characterise youth. See also In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and Secret Sunshine (2007).

Midori is sophisticated, colourful and lively; a pretty girl, fashionable and full of life. Her costume is composed of adjusted structured clothing as the 60?s was also the era of women’s emancipation. Mini skirts (first appearing on the catwalk in 1964 via designer André Courrèges), leather shoulder bag, huge plastic sunglasses, ankle-strapped shoes, box-shaped dresses with bright colours and mismatched patterns. She is coquettish and sophisticated, just like her seductive temperament.

The aesthetic of Norwegian Wood remains consistent with beautiful scenery and period decor (orange wallpaper and geometric interior design accessories). Needless to say, costume is NOT fashion, but when Joan Bergin says that “one may influence the other”; here is a perfect example to illustrate her point. Moreover, stylish design reveals the underrated rebirth of the 1960s in today’s fashion, in addition to the Japanese trend for ‘polished’ pure lines plus a tendency towards monochrome from designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Tadaki Kenzo, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake and Hanae Mori.

The sixties seem to be particularly inspiring for the younger generation. Take a walk in Brooklyn, East London, Paris’ Northside and Melbourne, Australia and you will observe the ability of trendy hipsters to seek fashion inspiration from fifty years ago. Even if costume design is not fashion, one can influence/be influenced by the other.

By Aurélie Coulibaly, a French author currently based in London. She can be contacted at aureliesophie.coulibaly[@]gmail.com.

You can watch Kenichi Matsuyama in Norwegian Wood at LOVEFiLM.com.

© 2011 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.