Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, sex and grief, and how the two can be linked, is explored in this adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s international bestseller.
I’d been wanting to see Norwegian Wood for a while. After playing Toronto and Venice last year, the film struck high on my arthouse radar so it was a shame that in the week it played near me, I was unable to check it out. To be honest though, this new Blu-Ray is a damn fine way to check it out.
Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is a student living in Tokyo in 1969. After his best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) kills himself, Watanabe finds himself drawing closer to Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), Kizuki’s girfriend. As they form a close relationship, the two deal with their grief over losing their loved one in different ways as Naoko escapes to a retreat to get psychological help while Watanabe stays in Tokyo and starts to form another relationship with Midori (Kiko Mizuhara). Watanabe has to try and decide which woman he wants in his life, something that proves harder than he could have anticipated.
In one of the extras on the disc, director Anh Hung Tran tells us that the only condition the book’s author placed on him was that he must make the film beautiful. Well Tran has certainly been able to do that as Norwegian Wood is one of the most strikingly gorgeous films I have seen in quite some time. Taking place in a variety of landscapes, Tran seems to be able to make the screen glow with warmth, even in snowy scenes, at times and make it feel as cold and harsh as the most biting of winds in other sequences. This film constantly blew me away with just how amazing it looks and I am kicking myself for not seeing it on the big screen. Anh Hung Tran is a name I’m not familiar with but on this evidence, he’s one I need to keep my eye on. And hey, he chose Jonny Greenwood to score the film! The man’s got taste and Greenwood provides an at times beautiful, at times haunting score which fits the film perfectly.
As well as the visuals though, the plotting of the film is also extremely accomplished. A frank portrayal of the yearning we all have with certain people in our lives, the film seems to physically ache with sexuality at times as Watanabe commences a frustrating but also intensely fulfilling relationship with Naoko while also having a flirty relationship with Miori which may or may not turn into something more. As the film progresses we see Watanabe try and grow, but also become quite mean in the process in a world where he soon realises that he needs to dedicate himself to one woman.
It isn’t just Watanabe who becomes a focus in this film either though as both women are very well fleshed out. Naoko becomes more obviously troubled as the film goes on and in one standout sequence she tells us exactly what is going through her mind, the sequence playing out as if we are voyeurs peering in on the most private kind of conversation you could imagine a couple having. This area, relating to how grief can inform sex and vice versa, is daring filmmaking (and also shows that the BBFC were pretty daring in issuing a 15 certificate), and makes the events of the second half of the film all the more crushingly real. Miori on the other hand depictsÂ theÂ girl who tries to be flirty to attract attention before realising she wants something more from the object of her desires. Right from the start she oozes sensuality and seems to all but jump on Watanabe in every scene. As I said she does change though and in her stand out scene, which also happens to be one of the most beautifully composed, she shows that for all her flirtations, all she really wants is for a man to love her, hold her and not think about anyone else.
Performances from the lead trio are all exemplary. Matsuyama as the lead is charming, good-looking and also is able to carry his character’s arc of silly young boy into emotionally messed up adult with a real skill and finesse with which I was very impressed. Kikuchi also gives us another role a world away from Babel and The Brother’s Bloom as an innocent young girl who is forever rocked by the death of her loved one. The confusion etched on her face as she finds herself falling for someone else, and the psychological implications this opens up later in the film are disturbingly well performed. Finally, in her first screen role, Mizuhara is a bundle of cute for whom I just wanted everything to work out throughout, with her uneasy energy detailed in the disc’s extras really creating a dynamic and undeniably sexy presence who makes Watanabe’s decisionsÂ realisticallyÂ difficult.
I was a big fan of Norwegian Wood as I think I’ve detailed with great visuals, a mature and emotional plot and terrific performances, it’s one which deserves a far larger audience than it seems like the film has had already.
Onto the disc itself, distributed by Soda Pictures, we have a stunning 1080p transfer presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio which seems to pop off the screen throughout. The image is sharp as a tack, the colours are perfectly rendered and detail levels are kept high throughout, for me it’s one of the more impressive transfers I’ve seen so far this year. I am still without a HD surround set up (5 weeks to go..) so I’m unable to comment much on the DTS-HD 5.1 audio but.. I heard the film fine!
Soda have also seen fit to put some decent extras together for the film, all presented in HD and leading off with a 52 minute long making of which essentially takes on 2 parts, the first looking at the location, and also surprising non-location shooting, and the second taking a look at the 3 leads, even including audition footage, and showing us interviews with them talking about what drew them to the project. The making of is very honest, the director being very comfortable in saying that he didn’t want Rink Kikuchi and first and also being worried about Kiko Mizuhara’s abilities at first. This making of is solid, and well worth a watch.
We also get a few shorter looks at the film’s promotional tour taking in its Japanese premiere, a special opening day screening and also a look at the Venice Film Festival presentation of the film. All key members are in all these features and they also talk more about the making of the film. It’s all decent enough stuff. The disc finished off with a trailer and a poster gallery.
A terrific film, brilliant picture and fulfilling extras make the UK release of Norwegian Wood a hard one to beat. Thoroughly recommended for fans of uncompromising world cinema.