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Review: Norwegian Wood

Directed By: Anh Hung Tran
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara

Norwegian Wood is beautiful and affecting, even if it does nearly collapse under the weight of its own earnestness at times.

This is a vintage costume fest from the outset. The location is late 1960s Tokyo with fashion largely influenced by Western pop culture. The story is centred on adolescent relationship issues, a sort of love triangle consequent to the irreversible pain of loss. Virtually all of the characters are in their late teens-early twenties. Their clothes are a mix of hip-hugger pants, white Levis, pointed collar shirts, long line and short pleated skirts, sleeveless hostess dresses and bell bottom jeans. Costume designer Yen Khe Luguern instigates several changes, virtually a new outfit for each scene. These are inconsistent personalities, still finding themselves; their impulsiveness a concession of youth.

Midori’s (Kiko Mizuhara) entrance as the self-important, childlike distraction in Watanabe’s (Kenichi Matsuyama) life following his eternal love Naoko’s (Rinko Kikuchi) retreat to a Kyoto sanatorium is classic signposting. Midori’s round neck red shift dress with belt, 1950s style Jackie-O sunglasses and achingly trendy bob hairstyle are all warning signs of someone too aware of her physical impact. Her skewed definition of ‘love’ has to be heard to be believed. Love and desire are the two most contested emotions in Norwegian Wood; frustration that one is not necessarily subservient to the other.

Further into the story, Naoko gives Watanabe a striped scarf, half knitted by her, half by her carer (and fellow patient) at the sanatorium Reika (Reika Kirishima). It is a blending of Watanabe’s love for Naoko and desire for Midori. The answer for this quandary lies with Reika, whom he does not love or desire yet is symbolic of his need to confront the past by consummating it. Naoko too suffers a similar divergence of feeling for Watanabe. Her resolution is just as permanent, though far more tragic.

The film has heart-rending payoffs, even with its secondary characters. Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsune), long suffering girlfriend to Watanabe’s openly philandering college roommate Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) is a model of impossibly neat repression. Her immaculate ensembles are numb in their precision. Again, actions must speak louder than words, as she refuses to allow personal trauma to dismantle her perfect facade. What occasionally engulfs these tender moments is Anh Hung Tran’s overblown direction, intent on accenting all drama with an intrusive score. Yet despite the intimacy of its story, Norwegian Wood was clearly never intended as subtle.


Overblown then, but thanks to moving performances, in particular Rinko Kikuchi, this is a worthwhile, if basically light adaptation of a much admired Japanese novel.

Norwegian Wood was released in UK cinemas on 11th March.

© 2011 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.