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Trần Anh Hùng’s ノルウェイの森 [Noruwei no Mori/Norwegian Wood]



ノルウェイの森 [Noruwei no Mori] aka Norwegian Wood, Japan 2010. Directed and screenplay by Trần Anh Hùng, based on Murakami Haruki’s novel ノルウェイの森 [Noruwei no Mori].

Bambi Theater 1, Row 2, Seat 5. Original version w/ subs.

(This post also appears, in slightly different format, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

There’s great stuff here that I like. The actors are terrific, and Mizuhara’s Midori is so good, particularly when being critically pissed at the protagonist, that it triggered certain memories and flashbacks of my own. Mark Lee Ping-bing’s signature cinematography is as superb as you can expect, and the score—by Jonny Greenwood—and the soundtrack—mostly by Can—are both fantastic and a great fit.

What isn’t so good, alas, is the music’s ham-fisted placement—which reminded me of Morricone’s quote that music, present as a “guest” for poetic reasons, should not only be carefully considered but also carefully introduced, as it might not be able to fulfill its functions when the listeners are not prepared for it. The sound design, moreover, is mediocre at best, which is a shame—there are long periods without any music where it could have been made to shine. The late 1960s/early 1970s period style works well, even if added in post (Lee shot with a digital Thomson Viper FilmStream, a great camera at the time). Props were fine too, but it was just too obvious that they had only two period cars at their disposal.

Then, Anh Hùng’s script. It doesn’t work. The first half-hour, with its constant voiceover narrator, comes across like a sound novel. What works great in a novel doesn’t necessarily work in a movie, and notably native Japanese movies often excel at narrating backstories purely visually. Then, the script knits parts of Murakami’s novel together with visible seams where parts were left out; it’s mostly Battistel’s first-rate editing that holds everything together. And the screenplay immediately tanks when the going gets rough—when, e.g., it replaces an action that would have led the movie too far astray with an inept dialogue line that’s way too weak to trigger Midori’s fury; or when, on the other hand, it preserves the protagonist’s final “I wonder where I am now?” line even though he’s at home, not in Ueno Station (which works as a Foucauldian heterotopia in the novel), which they obviously couldn’t afford to recreate in period style.

The German subtitle set was spot on. The title »Naokos Lächeln«, however, fried my brain.

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