A touching tale of life, love and loss

Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood

As an avid fan of Haruki Murakami, I couldn’t wait to see the film adaptation of what is arguably his most successful novel.

Although I must admit to having reservations, as there are rarely cases where the film comes anywhere close to the book.

An engaging and tender tale of love, longing and loss, I wondered whether it would translate to the big screen.

Set in the late 1960s in Japan, the film tells the story of Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) As teenagers he, best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kôra) and Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) are inseparable.

That is until one night when Kizuki decides to put an end to his life by gassing himself in his car on the day of his 17th birthday.

Desperate to escape the town where he grew up and to forget about his past troubles Toru heads to university in Tokyo.

Toru makes few friends and spends most of his days with his head buried in a book. Until one day when he unexpectedly meets Naoko again.

The pair rekindle their friendship, drawn together by the sense of loss for their friend and spend the days walking together with no destination in mind.

On Naoko’s 20th birthday the pair celebrate at her flat with a cake and bottle of wine.

As the rain falls Naoko becomes consumed with grief, sobbing uncontrollably. After comforting her they share a kiss, before finally spending the night together.

The next day Toru discovers that Naoko has left her flat, without a word about where she was going or why.

In desperation he writes to her at the only place he can think of – her parents address, but gets no reply.

And so it is that another woman enters his life. Unlike the introverted and troubled Naoko, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) is full of fun and life and the pair quickly become friends.

Then out of the blue Toru receives a letter from Naoko. Suffering from some form of mental illness and hearing voices, she has retreated to a clinic deep in the wilds in a bid to get better.

Saying she would like to see him, Toru heads to the mountains where he finds Naoko as unusual and distant as ever.

After a couple of days Toru is more devoted than ever to Naoko – something she just can’t reciprocate. They part with the hope of meeting again when she is a little better.

Back in Tokyo, Midori, feeling neglected by her friend, gives him the silent treatment before eventually opening her heart and confessing her love. But she warms that if Toru wants her – there must be only her. Which way will Toru’s heart lead him? And is there any happy ending for these young people?

I so desperately wanted this to be a five star film, worthy of the five star book on which it is based. But it didn’t quite manage it.

Beautifully shot and well-acted throughout by the young and beautiful cast, it was still lacking something of the magic of the book.

Despite being over two hours long, 133 minutes to be precise, the film didn’t delve as deeply into the characters as it could have.

At times the plot went at break-neck speed, glossing over important parts of the plot, while in other places it was annoyingly slow. But some moments were truely magical.

This is a good film, but one that would maybe be better enjoyed by viewers with no prior knowledge of the book.

Murakami is a truly masterful writer, and I doubt whether any screen writer or film-maker will ever be able to do justice to one of his masterpieces. But this is a good effort.

Claire O’Neill

Star Rating HHHH