Gorgeous, heartbreaking, quietly stunning. I watched this in Mogwai with Mike last Thursday, at a time when it might have been the worst movie for me to see (I’m stubborn that way). When the opening credits started rolling, I thought: This is a mistake. But I went ahead with it anyway, and found out it wasn’t, after all.
Years after his best friend Kizuki commits suicide, Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) again meets Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). Drawn together by their shared loss, the two fall in love and struggle to build a stable relationship. But as Naoko’s brokenness draws them farther apart, Toru finds it increasingly difficult to hold on, especially after Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) enters his life and leaves on it the mark of possibility.
What makes Anh Hung Tran’s Norwegian Wood different from other adaptations is its recognition of limits. It offers no pretentions, no comparison to the original. Here I am, it seems to say, make of me what you will. I read Haruki Murakami’s novel fairly recently, but while watching the film I seemed to forget the book almost entirely. The general plot remained the same, but seeing Norwegian Wood on screen proved to be a different experience altogether. Apart from the beginning I didn’t even think of comparing it to the book. It was just that different.
Norwegian Wood is a very quiet, very thin movie. Its lapses of silence invite the viewer to fill its spaces, saturate it with thoughts the movie itself provokes. At the same time it is extremely compact, chock-full of silent and verbal ruminations on life, love, death. It is a beautiful film, and not just beneath the surface. So many of its scenarios make the most gorgeous screenshots (its poster variations attest to this). However, other scenes remain debatable. At these points during the movie, I was crying shamelessly while other members of the audience were laughing. In Mike’s words: “There is a fine line between drama and absurdity.” True, true. I was partial to the movie, obviously, but even through the haze of bias I could see where they were coming from. Two scenes in particular could have been cut down a few seconds. Nonetheless, the histrionics still won me over, and for me the film deserves a place alongside the novel: it is different, but equally tender, equally heartbreaking.
‘To me, it seems, people should get stuck between 18 and 19.’
Nothing can heal us from losing a loved person. Not truth, not sincerity, not strength, not kindness. All that we can do is to live while hugging this tragedy. And learn that no other new loss will be any less painful.