24 March 2011


The showing of Submarine I reviewed yesterday was immediately preceded by a much less warm and fuzzy sermon on teenage angst, Norwegian Wood. It wasn't my idea to go and see this, but Rob Simpson's, and seeing as how there were a few hours to kill before Submarine, I thought I'd go along. I didn't know it'd be quite so heavy-going, but typically, I eventually had more time for it than Rob did.

If you do copy this plan and see this in a double bill with Submarine, make sure the happy one goes after, because Norwegian Wood is based on Haruki Murakami's novel about teenage anguish and suicide. Watanabe is a college student at a time of tumultuous student protests against the establishment. After his best friend Kizuki kills himself, a chance meeting with Kizuki's ex-girlfriend leads to a volatile relationship, and ultimately towards impending tragedy.

And golly, it is a miserable film. In that respect, it's kind of difficult to write about in the same way as it's hard to review good comedy. There's no amount of time that can make this kind of tragedy funny, and I saw in this one the kind of malaise and miserablism that many seemed to complain about in the actually very good Never Let Me Go. Where Kathy, Tommy and Ruth were programmed in their upbringing, there comes a point in this film where Watanabe almost seems programmed by the sheer amount of shit that weighs down upon him.

So as you can imagine, it's not an easy watch. It runs to 133 minutes long, and the miserablism almost becomes predictable over time. Certainly, the final 20 minutes or so seem distended in the wake of the inevitable scene that occurs before this denouement. Maybe the reason why Murakami is considered by his fans to be an unadaptable author is because the story on the page holds the kind of detail that doesn't usually translate to a visual medium. Then again, reading the blurb for the book suggests that there's still plenty of stuff cut from the film too.

And watching it also reminded me that there's an international difference in filmmaking that has nothing to do with subtitles. I see enough English language films to get a good grasp on the way they're constructed, but this one in particular seemed puzzling in the way it was edited. Although I learnt that the elbow is the least sensitive part of the body in one very short scene, I couldn't tell you why. I think part of why I stuck with it was because of the fine performance by Kenichi Matsuyama, whose Watanabe grows visibly more weary and aggrieved as events unfold. Likewise, Rinko Kikuchi, who was previously one of the few redeeming features of Babel, makes for a deeply mercurial and disturbed Naoko.

Norwegian Wood has a score by Jonny Greenwood that is so jarring that I was convinced more than once that a music cue was diegetic, and that we were about to see a violinist in the corner of the room. But the jarring qualities of the film inject some life into a morbid and miserable movie that audiences might just mistake for boring. I think there's more to it than that, but unfortunately, I'm least qualified to comment on exactly why I found it to be pretty good, on balance. And so I don't know if I could recommend it, but I can tell you that what it has to say about sex, love and growing up is very striking stuff.

Norwegian Wood is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Norwegian Wood, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Rob said...

referenced in a review? yeah, I've made it!

Mark said...

Who the hell are you?