Back in 1987, before thoughtful young men and women scrambled their brains over the mysteries of Wind-up Bird Chronicle and each other, Haruki Murakami published and was immediately and unwantedly lauded for Norwegian Wood, a comparatively straightforward narrative of the youth and young manhood of a Tokyo university student. The student, Toru Watanabe, is in love, maybe, with Naoko, his dead best friend’s (deeply troubled) girl; his relationship with Midori, a classmate from History of Drama, is also complicated. It’s the 60s, protesters are demanding whatever comes to mind, and Toru is studying drama—just because.
Most of this is plain from Tran Anh Hung’s adaptation, too, but after a promising early scene in which Kizuki (Kengo Kora) climbs into the backseat and inhales exhaust, the film relies on blue-tinted sex and warm, "retro" hues to do the storytelling—in this light, how could it be anything but the 60s? With grasses swaying in the high winds, how could Toru (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) be anything but torn, passionate and torn? Not that the actors don’t struggle to make a good go of it: as Midori, Kiko Mizuhara makes up for her character’s lost verbiage with an impressively varied arsenal of smiles, and Naoko’s ragged psychology is painfully clear. And while we might think it only appropriate that Jonny Greenwood set our fears of death to music, such treatment flies awkwardly over the film, its relationships falling short not only of Murakami’s tortuous tangles, but of our own college angst.
Opens January 6 at IFC Center