Before delving into the ‘critical’ part of this review, I have a confession to make: I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, his novels and short stories. I only feel this is worth mentioning as it is common opinion if not knowledge that film adaptations of books do not often live up to expectations. There are a few debatable exceptions: Lord of the Rings is a spectacular trilogy. This is not to say it is ‘as good’ as the novels it was based on, but it definitely did not show itself up. The Godfather; based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same title is widely regarded as actually being better than the book; but as I said, these examples and a handful of others are generally classed as exceptions to the rule.
As I try not to give a biased opinion about Norwegian Wood, I do not feel guilty if I do so, as I am sure it’s relatively wide distribution for the Western audience was hopeful and reliant on the worldwide fame of its author; and certainly counted on relying on this for putting bums on seats over its theme, genre and the fact that it is a Japanese film. Because let’s be honest, the majority of us are much more prone to optioning for watching giant talking robots beat the crap out of each other for the third time, than struggling through the silent agony of teenage angst and overactive hormonal behaviour.
…most directors would have to try pretty hard to mess this one up.
My second confession is slightly more unforgivable: I didn’t finish watching Norwegian Wood. I have only completed this walk of shame (or relief; dependant on your opinion of the film), which is much easier when you have a DVD remote in your hand, on a few occasions. But in my lacklustre defence, it was pointed angrily at the screen for a good ten minutes before I fully convinced myself that there is no way this heartless and unnecessarily depressing film will get any way near better than it needed to in making up for the drivel I had suffered already.
I had incredibly high expectations of Norwegian Wood. It was a film I had been looking forward to for a good few months. My assumption was that, considering how accomplished, engaging and thoroughly compelling Murakami’s novel is, most directors would have to try pretty hard to mess this one up.
What struck me most about this film was the complete absence of any emotion.
Yes the original content is drawn out with little ‘visual’ action, but this should have provided for a rich and emotional filmic translation, full of beautiful cinematography and evocative and loveable characters. Instead it clumsily bumped along, scene to scene, with a complete lack of atmosphere, a cast of characters with less appeal than John McCririck’s foot and no actual regard for creating an at least comprehendible narrative. In fact, especially in the opinion of someone who has read the book, it would surprise me if they even bothered with a script. Instead I think about thirty pages were ripped out of Murakami’s great literary achievement, someone was tasked with going to the colossal effort of looking at the bottom right hand corner of each and stapling them together in a rough order and then the whole crew must have carried on regardless; completely ruining what should have been a respectable honouring of an immensely popular story.
What struck me most about this film was the complete absence of any emotion. I would not be surprised if Anh Hung Tran was not a fan of Murakami and if this is the case then it would have been a much more rewarding outcome if a genuine appreciator would have taken on the heady challenge of adapting one of his finest works to date. Then again, I could be wrong; it may have picked up in the second half……
Images courtesy of Norwegian Wood