Movie Dump: A Review of Norwegian Wood

Nope, not the song of the same name by the Beatles, but it is somewhat recurring in the movie. Norwegian Wood is based on the Japanese novel by Haruki Murakami, and is by far, one of my most favorite. I watched this a year ago, but with a horrible audio, video, and subtitle quality (seriously the subtitles disappear in some scenes and the grammar is horrendous). I got a better copy, so I decided to watch it again.

I have to be honest, when I first watched the film I didn’t particularly like it. There were a lot of things missing from the novels, which were either cut, or not shown at all–especially the “Storm Trooper” scenes which were explained on a few conversations. Rather than my typical movie reviews where I just analyze the characters, plot, settings, or random tidbits about the movie; I will be mostly focusing on the character portrayals and the setting. I wouldn’t discuss the plot anymore, or else this would become a veeeery long-winded review.

The main character is Toru Watanabe, a Tokyo college student whose best friend, Kizuki, committed suicide during high school. His Kizuki’s death has somehow haunted him, and he realizes that he is mostly an outsider to others. Kizuki’s death also connects him to Naoko, the childhood sweetheart of Kizuki and a friend of Toru in high school. While shy and reserved, Naoko is also emotionally fragile, who is struggling with the death of Kizuki and haunted by a previous suicide incident by her sister. Both struggles to forge a healthy friendship, but their personal problems and Naoko’s deteriorating mental health hampers this–Toru also realizes that his love for Naoko is unrequited as she cannot bring herself to actually love anymore.

Toru is portrayed by Kenichi Matsuyama, while Naoko is portrayed by Rinko Kikuchi (who appears in Pacific Rim). Kenichi portrayed Toru well enough, he really gives a solitary vibe and his slightly detached personality. He also does well on the more emotional scenes, showing Toru’s struggle with his own emotional pain, isolation, confusion, and his yearning for love. Rinko Kikuchi’s portrayal of Naoko was also quite good. She nailed the shy and reserved personality, with her manner of speaking as soft-spoken and delicate. However, I didn’t get the hauntingly beautiful vibe from Naoko, as the book portrays her as having a more innocent and fragile look but Rinko Kikuchi has a more mature look on her.

The other character that is important to note is Midori Kobayashi, also a love interest of Toru. Unlike Naoko, Midori is outgoing, liberated, friendly, and lively. They eventually spend time with each other, talking about a range of topics from Midori fantasizing Toru having a huge penis, math, and American music and literature. Toru eventually falls in love with Midori, but it conflicts with his attachment to Naoko. Meanwhile, Midori also falls in love with Toru despite having a boyfriend and claims that she would wait for Toru–as long as they sort their own problems first.

As much as I have a huge crush on Kiko Mizuhara, the one portraying Midori, unfortunately she isn’t that much of an actress. Kiko Mizuhara is a model and Norwegian Wood was her first acting gig. Sadly, despite getting Midori’s bob cut seriously as I imagined it, she wasn’t that much great in the acting department. Kiko Mizuhara’s acting felt robotic and her expressions were kinda stiff. Her face also seem stuck on a constant typical model smile that didn’t feel natural. She didn’t quite look like the energeticĀ genki girl and she looked so innocent and young. When the book portrayed her as more of a mature and stylish dresser. Naoko and Midori kinda got reversed in the looks department.

For the other characters, I didn’t have that much of a problem with the exception of the actress portraying Reiko Ishida. Reiko is a middle-aged woman, has wrinkles around her eyes, and is plain-looking. The actress that portrayed her looks young and pretty…what’s up with that. It did make the sexual encounter with Toru a lot more tasteful, I think.

The setting on the other hand captured a 1960s Tokyo on the height of massive influx of American culture and student protest movements. The set is absolutely beautiful, has the atmosphere of the period down right to the music, food, and clothing. May I just say that I love settings from this particular timelines because of the simple yet colorful style of the clothes, and the buildings are classical and less concrete-y. There is something about the aesthetics back in the day that is somewhat appealing, which are actaully getting revived today especially among the true blue hipsters.

I’m quite split with my recommendation here. It’s worth a watch, the setting is beautiful and the story is quite emotional and meaningful. It also has a solid soundtrack, aside from the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, there are music that are somewhat uniquely Japanese in composition.

However, I recommend that the book be read first. But reading the book first would make the movie a little disappointing. So, if you are the type that still enjoys the book even after watching its movie adaptation, I suggest movie first, book later. But the book is still better read first, and I still recommend that. Holy crap, am I confusing.

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