Friday, January 13, 2012

Norwegian Wood (2010)

Currently playing in theaters in the US, this film is an adaption of a novel by Haruki Murakami. When Murakami published the book, it hit a nerve with the Japanese public and turned him into a superstar on a scale usually reserved for rock stars or movie stars.

The story of the film is related to us by Toru, a young man who spent his high school days hanging out with his best friend Kizuki, and Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko. Kizuki commits suicide leaving the pair shaken. Toru goes to Tokyo for college, leaving Naoko behind. One day while studying, Toru finds that Naoko has turned up on the campus. They begin to spend time together. After they sleep together on her 20th birthday she runs off to sanatorium to try and deal with her feelings. Left on his own Toru meets Midori and begins to fall in love with her.

(There are other levels to the film thanks to a womanizing friend of Toru's and the student upheavals of the late 1960's and early 1970's, but that description should give you enough to get started)

Going into the film this was high on my must see list. I was sure that this was going to be a great film. My plan was to see this film and write it up .... and then I saw it and my plans got derailed. The film looks great, it has a good score, but the film just didn't click with me on an emotional level. I couldn't see spending the time writing the film up.

At this point you're asking yourself, if he didn't like it why is he writing it up? That's a good question. The reason is simple, I can't shake the film. There is something about the film that has seized my consciousness and won't let it go. I don't really care for the film, but I can't stop thinking about it.

Shot in a style that is best described as arty, the shots are perfect, the lighting exquisite(complete with color codes), the dialog meaningful. This is film that is the definition of art film. The trouble is that it doesn't seem real, even as a memory. It looks great but its kind of artificial.

Part of the problem is the dialog, when it happens, seems too contrived. Every line seems to have meaning. There is an exchange when Toru and Naoko meet at his school where they talk about how they both don't like to talk. This then leads into sections of the film where we just see them traveling around not talking. I know that may have worked in the novel where Toru's telling of the story would have bridged the nonverbal gaps but here it doesn't work since it leaves only meaningful dialog and lots of meaningful looks.I didn't wholly buy into it. (And yes we get some voice over but not enough)

For me the lack of real dialog resulted in a further complication, a one noteness to some of the character. Toru's womanizing friend is one thing,a womanizer. Naoko's friend at the sanatorium is one thing, a kind of sage. There is nothing wrong with the performances (except for Kiko Mizuhara as Midori who seems miscast), its simply the actors aren't given any room to do anything with the characters.

As you can see I don't really care for the film and yet I can't shake it. There is something about it, about the struggle of holding on to the past when standing on the threshold of the future that haunts me.

I'm not going to say don't see the film. It is a film with some great things in it, and it's a film that has some huge fans. There is enough going for it that I can honestly say that if you want to try the film do so. For me, it simply wasn't my cup of tea.

Out in theaters in the US. Out on DVD elsewhere in the world.

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