“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me,
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”
So goes the song evoking emotions that linger long after the credits roll. To be honest about it, it’s a vague Beatles song for me. I couldn’t place it. But once I’ve heard it, it stays on like a delicate henna tattoo. After all, Rollingstone Magazine has ranked it 83rd of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
For Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), it summoned memories of a caustic chapter in his younger life when his best friend Kizuki committed suicide. The 60’s was a harrowingly decadent era; a complex of crisscrossing cultural and political upheavals and trends slicing through out the globe like a tumultuous force that refuses restraint. To recover from it, Toru, who’s soft spoken and pensive, moves to
One day, Toru finds Naoko (Rinku Kikuchi), Kizuki’s girl friend.They hook up and grow close, but Naoko is a different girl since her boyfriend’s suicide. A part of her is an inconsolable vacuum of regret and longing. On Naoko’s 20th birthday, she shares her bed with timid Toru. After their intimate encounter, Naoko spirals into depression and withdraws from the world. She retreats to a sanitarium in the mountains of
Though Toru keeps to himself, he seeks solace in the company of Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama), a colleague from university, whose character and disposition is antithetical from sullen Toru. Nagasawa is a charming guy who sleeps around (try 70 to a hundred girls) despite having a girlfriend. Toru also meets Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) whose ebullience fascinates him so. But Midori is Naoko's complete opposite. And she bristles with vitality, confidence and honesty.
Then Toru receives a note from Naoko: “Just wait for me. Someday, we will meet again.” And he did! Toru would occasionally visit Naoko, who’s still conflicted with his presence. During their moments of intimacy, Naoko disallows his reciprocation to her affections, lustful and otherwise. So Toru submits himself completely to Naoko’s ministrations… like an accommodating slave. But her restrictions are too ominous and peculiar; and Toru is enraptured. Despite all these, Naoko is a restless, dispossessed soul, who has lost a part of her forever.
The film resonates with haunting despair. The characters are victims of tragedies well ingrained in their flawed characters. It’s almost impenetrable to discern a modicum of real happiness. Yet we’re drawn to their grief and longing like an inveterate addiction. The introspective musings of Japanese novelist Haruki Mirukami is perfectly captured by director Tran Anh Hung’s languid storytelling. Tran Anh Hung employs fetching vistas of the Japanese landscape to frame his scenes in a cinematic canvas, a cinematic tack that envelopes the essence of the story. It took my breath away.
The novel is sexually risky, but never impertinent or scurrilous. In Toru and Naoko’s first coupling (during Naoko’s 20th birthday), the scene sizzles with passion spilling over. His concupiscent thrusts feel very raw and real yet you respect the sincerity of its urgency. You understand why. In another scene where Toru visits Naoko, they sit on a field of overgrown hay while Naoko suggests to the submissive Toru, “Do you want me to touch you?” He meekly nods, as the camera pans over the very green field being blown by a ravaging wind. The implications are astounding, I was swept away.
Despite the deceptive calm in most scenes, it's hard not to get affected by the raw emotions ambiguously underlined within the narrative. The film is not for everyone. It tests your patience analogous to the joys of climbing a mountain. But the payback is ultimate and expansive. I can relate to Toru's moments of isolation. And I end up needing a good cry. But his journey inspires. When Naoko ultimately chooses a path of perdition, Toru embraces life.
The lines are memorable:
“Who likes being alone? I just try not to make friends by force, so that I am not disappointed later.”
When Midori’s inconsolable dad lost her wife, he succinctly tells his children: “I would rather have lost one of you than one of her.” Honesty could be a mean preoccupation.
Kenichi Matsuyama plays Toru with impassioned conviction, it’s hard to believe that he’s the same guy who played “L” in the “Death Note” franchise. But it’s his brilliance that allows
The back stories behind the song is interesting. John Lennon wrote it to smokescreen one of his numerous affairs. John recalled: “I was very careful and paranoid because I didn't want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household. I'd always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair.” The Norwegian Wood is a parody “on those kind of girls who when you'd go to their flat there would be a lot of Norwegian wood,” said Paul McCartney. Norwegian wood is nothing special because it’s really but a cheap pine wood. If you notice the weird strings used in the song, its an Indian guitar called “sittar” that George Harrison was playing.
The novel by Murakami, a story of loss and sexuality, became a cult hit in
It can be beautiful.
Director Tran Anh Hung