Starring Rinko Kikuchi and Kenichi Matsuyama as the lovelorn Naoko and Watanabe from Haruki Marukami's eponymous novel is a slow burner of a film about depressed youths with radical sensibilites but within a classical template of melodrama. Whilst the film is brilliantly conceived and shot by a technically gifted cast and crew, providing a real shot in the arm for Japanese cinema, the problem with adapting a famous modern novel to the screen with a ready made audience in place, will ultimately leave fans of Marukami's novel wondering what went wrong.
Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) cannot let go of the past and instead allow it to define themselves and their future. Their mutual passion is part of their malaise rather than an escape. Watanabe’s other love interest, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), could be the answer to his problems but he’s so tied to the past he treats her interest with caution.
Lee Ping-bin brings a real sensuality to the films cinematography, however the blue tinge used for sex scenes and the frigidness of other scenes seem to distance the audience from proceedings. Leaving the actors to wander through some scenes; one sex scene early on in the film serves no dramatic purpose other than to show them having sex.
A musical score supplied by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead deviates from swooning mood pieces to orchestral pieces with full blown guitars - the score works well as a means to explain the differing feelings of euphoria and anguish between these angst-riddled characters.
Performed with sterling diligence by the the young actors, the most notable is the performance from Rink Kikuchi as Naoko - heartbroken and vunerable.
In the end, the film whilst faithful to the book becomes a victim of its own stylisation and imagery - a matter of style over substance, but is that a problem of the adaptation or the fault of the source material; a book deemed unadaptable for the silver screen. We have the adaptation, but die-hard fans may be unimpressed, whilst this is a shot in the arm for Japanese cinema in that they know they can make this sort of film now.
Norwegian Wood is released on DVD from Soda Pictures on 4th July 2011