Based on Haruki Murakami’s celebrated novel (which I have not read) and directed by The Scent of the Green Papaya’s (which I have not seen) Tran Anh Hung, Norwegian Wood is a slow burn of a film that failed to engage me and, like the snow-covered hillsides, left me cold.
Set in Japan in the 1960’s it tells of Watanabe, his best friend Kizuki and the girl Kizuki has been close to since they were born, Naoko. Kizuki and Naoko are two people who, by all outward appearances, were made for one another. And then Kizuki kills himself and Watanabe leaves – needing to get away from the village and expand himself at university. However, one day he runs into Naoko again. She's still fragile from Kizuki's death but they become close and, on Naoko's 20th birthday, spend one passionate night together. Naoko takes off and Watanabe manages to track her down to a retreat in the mountains. She's delicate and on a downward spiral, obviously still not over Kizuki taking his own life. To further complicate matters Midori, an attractive girl at university, begins showing an interest in Watanabe. And he's interested in her, but still hung up on Naoko.
This all plays out at a slow pace, aiming for dreamy and memory-like but comes across as emotionally cold and left me unconnected. Everything is taken Very Seriously - these are young people that seem to never, ever laugh or have fun. They have each of them suffered under some sort of tragic incident (death), but some sort of release was required in the film. Something that enlivened them somehow. At one point, Midori asks Watanabe to take her to a porno movie - this could have been a great scene; something different to the rest of the film (and, supposedly, hilarious in the book). Instead it is never mentioned again and the statement just left to sit there, like a forgotten knick-knack.
The film is beautifully shot, at least, by Ping Bin Lee. Characters are often framed off-centre, as barely more than tiny specks in vast landscapes. The performances, as Serious and often dreary as they are, are perfectly measured. Those two sentences are kind of the perfect encapsualtion of Norwegian Wood for me: coldly beautiful, studied and measured but somewhat lacking in life. Even as they explore love, sex and the emotional ties that connect Watanabe with these women. It just didn't connect with me.