Elemental Love and Heartbreak in Norwegian Wood

norwegianwood

Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung succeeds in turning Japanese author Haruki Murakami‘s beloved novel Norwegian Wood into an ethereal meditation on life, love, and death. Though the film lacks the book’s dense backstory, the basic story, set in the 1960s, remains the same; teenagers Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and Kizuki (Kengo Kôra) are each other’s first and only love, while Kizuki’s easygoing best friend Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) is their constant companion. When Kizuki commits suicide, Naoko and Watanabe are sent reeling; she spirals into depression and joins a sanatorium, while he goes off to college and immerses himself in sex and literature. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood‘s evocative score, which devolves from jangly guitar pop to strident orchestral arrangements, foreshadows the downward trajectory of their reunion, which is complicated by Watanabe’s relationship with the outspoken Midori (Kiko Mizuhara). Naoko and Watanabe’s internal battles with the primal forces of love, guilt, and redemption are embodied by quietly majestic scenes of rippling grasses, crashing waves, and snowy mountains; the movie has a powerful elemental quality that grounds its heavy emotions. It’s also refreshingly honest about the awkward allure of teenage sexuality, which plays a pivotal role in Naoko’s eventual downfall. Hung captures the nostalgia for and overwhelming uncertainty of first loves and heartbreaks, and the weary strength it takes to carry on.

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