I find it hard to believe that it's been nearly eleven years since I read Jay Rubin's translation of Norwegian Wood so it was impossible for me to watch Anh Hung Tran's adaption sparing too much thought about making comparisons to the original book. This is the third of Anh Hung Tran's films that I've seen, The Scent of Green Papaya, (1993), has to be one of my favourite films, the other by him that I've seen was Cyclo,(1995), which is a mesmeric piece of film making, so I guess I found myself watching the film largely disregarding the fact that it was adapted from Murakami's novel, although obviously the thought never remained that distant. The film runs for a little over two hours and I guess that if it followed the novel in it's entirety it would have lasted a lot longer, the sequences also run differently than they do in the novel, which also throws attempting to make comparisons to the novel further into difficulty, but for me not having read the novel for such a long time and perhaps for someone who has come to the film without having read the book, (if there was such a viewer?), it made me want to return to the novel, and perhaps for someone who hasn't read it, the film I think would want them to track down a copy of the book.
The soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood seemed in places a little bit out of place, sometimes as if it was composed for a different film, although the tracks by Can worked really well, Greenwood's subtler guitar based pieces seemed to fit really well, along with the more atmospheric pieces, although the string arrangements I sometimes found difficult to reconcile with what was happening on screen, it gave the actors an animated quality which worked a little unevenly at times. The Beatles song features only twice in the film, once sung by Reiko, (played by Reika Kirishima), and again at the closing credits, music is an integral aspect to Murakami's novels it's great to learn that YMO legend Haruomi Hosono appears as the record shop owner where Watanabe works. Kenichi Matsuyama gives an understated performance as Watanabe, caught between the emotionally fragile world of Naoko and Midori, (played by Kiko Mizuhara), Matsuyama's next movie appearance is in Sabu's Usagi Drop based on Yumi Unita's josei manga Bunny Drop which will also be shown as an animated T.V series. Watching the film for me made me think that Naoko, (played by Rinko Kikuchi), is perhaps the central character to the story that the rest of the characters revolve around, (although in another sense it could be Kuzuki's suicide, played by Kengo Kora), which I don't remember feeling to such a degree when reading the novel.
The film is superbly shot, the scenes of Naoko's rural retreat seemed to match how the novel seems to visualise it, the shots also of Watanabe by the sea after Naoko's suicide were beautifully captured, I've not yet checked the location of some of the filming, the feel of the rest of the film evokes the time period it's set in, with Watanabe walking indifferently amongst protesting students near the start of the film. The novel is obviously a tricky one to transfer onto screen due to Watanabe's inner contemplative narratives which would be difficult to convey in film, although it remains a beautifully presented film and would find it hard to imagine it to disappoint. Anh Hung Tran didn't opt for a voice over narration by Watanabe and has chosen to depict the dialogue and what is seen in the novel in a straight forward way, the emotional scenes are caught with great effect, adapting from literary works is largely an ambiguous enterprise, the film acts in a way as an accompanying visual extension of the original novel but also succeeds as a finely crafted film in it's own sense.
Norwegian Wood site
Norwegian Wood at Soda Pictures