Bloody students

Quick review of the film I saw at lunchtime, Norwegian Wood, the perfect middle-of-the-day, go-to-the-cinema-on-your-own arthouse experience: a grief-stricken meditation in a foreign language on love, loss and lubrication. (The last l-word was glibly chosen – it’s only a 15-certificate and not exactly Ai No Corrida, but there is some frank talk about one character’s failure to become aroused.) Based on an apparently famous 1987 Japanese novel which I’ve never heard of by Haruki Murakami – about whom there is a piece in the new New Yorker so I will soon be an eloquent expert – it’s set in the late 60s and concerns three students at a university in Tokyo, which might well be Tokyo University. Now, this is a languid, slow-moving, self-consciously directed, exquisitely scored film that spends well over two hours moving slowly and photogenically over a number of orange-bathed summers and snow-flecked winters, each as pretty as a picture. The three protagonists – whose inter-relationships I won’t go into, in case you go and see it one lunchtime on your own – are all lovely looking and even when they are wracked with grief or pain they look lovely. You kind of want to be a student in late-60s Tokyo, albeit perhaps without the convulsing agony of loss and loneliness.

Directed by Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung – who, again, I’ve never heard of, which is why I am not a regular contributor to Sight & Sound – Norwegian Wood is a serious piece of work, which begs to be taken seriously, although it is so langorously paced, there is a massive tendency to drift off and drift back in while watching it. I did this, and it didn’t ruin it. What does that say? Jonny Greenwood’s score is sublime: so heavy with sadness and beauty. When his music hits the verdant Kyoto hillside, you’re in good company.

But you can’t help thinking: pull yourselves together, the lot of you – you’re young and living in a great city at a great and tumultuous time (the main protagonist Watanabe actually sort of sleepwalks past two student revolutions!), you’re good looking and thin and attractive and you don’t appear to have to go to lectures, and the noodles look delicious, and you all want to sleep with each other, and look out of the window, it’s all lovely!

Apart from that, if you’re in the mood for love – and loss and pain and misery – and you like Radiohead, well, you may well already have seen it. And yes it’s named after the Beatles song, but I’m not sure why, except that the song is in it. Perhaps it was clearer in the novel. Anybody?

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Bloody students

  1. Wikipedia states that:

    The original Japanese title Noruwei no Mori, is the standard Japanese translation of the title of The Beatles song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The song is often mentioned in the novel, and is the favourite song of the character Naoko. Mori in the Japanese title translates into English as wood in the sense of “forest”, not the material “wood”, even though the song lyrics clearly refer to the latter. Forest settings and imagery are significantly present in the novel.

  2. In the book it’s framed by him hearing Norwegian Wood on the radio in the 80s, at an airport or something, and it taking him back to that time.

    I adore Murakami, although Norwegian Wood is far from my favourite book of his. I recommend Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to start with. Or one of his books of short stories.

  3. I haven’t read the book, or seen the film, but according to good old (whatever would we do without you?) Wikipedia:

    The song is often mentioned in the novel, and is the favourite song of the character Naoko. Mori in the Japanese title translates into English as wood in the sense of “forest”, not the material “wood”, even though the song lyrics clearly refer to the latter. Forest settings and imagery are significantly present in the novel.

  4. “norwegian wood” is a porn industry expression pertaining to a male actor’s inability to maintain arousal in cold surroundings.

  5. I was disappointed with this film: reading Norwegian Wood made me yearn to go to Tokyo, and eventually I did, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although this film was beautiful, it didn’t capture that ’60s Japan vibe that the book does so effortlessly; take away the odd period detail and, you know, the fact that they were all speaking Japanese, it could’ve been anywhere.

    Must disagree about the score, as well. Started well, but as the film went on, got so histrionic and intrusive with its “Ahhh! BWAAAH! Bad stuff ahead!” that by the time it got to the descending Shepherd Scale accompanying the impressive sputum acting at the emotional heart of the film, I was crying with laughter at its absurdity.

  6. Oh, but I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your review, especially the “stop moping about” stuff… The shared loss etc is much better framed in the book, IIRC.

Do leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s