Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Norwegian Wood: movie review

Haruki Murakami's bestseller 'Norwegian Wood' makes it to the big screen in this languidly beautiful interpretation. 

By Peter RainerFilm critic / January 6, 2012

Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) (l.) and Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) in ‘Norwegian Wood’ (in Japanese, with subtitles).

Red Flag Releasing


Haruki Murakami's celebrated 1987 novel "Norwegian Wood" was about love and loss, ado­lescent-style, and was a huge bestseller, so it was inevitable that one day it would become a movie. But why did it have to be so languid? This is one of the rare films that suffer from being too exquisite. The young and beautiful actors seem as poetic and ethereal as the bright green landscapes and snowscapes that often provide their backdrops.

Skip to next paragraph

Set mostly in Tokyo in the late 1960s at a time of global student unrest, "Norwegian Wood" has as its hero the too passive Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), who is pulled in his affections between two radically different young women – the emotionally unstable Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, from "Babel"), whose boyfriend, and Watanabe's best friend, killed himself; and Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a fellow student who looks demure but talks dirty.

This erotic push-pull might have registered more strongly if Watanabe, who narrates the film, weren't such a pill. But it's difficult to get worked up about his dilemma when both women so outclass him. Even his playboy friend Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) comes off better, even though his dismissiveness with his adoring girlfriend Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsune) makes him far less sympathetic.

In some ways, "Norwegian Wood" plays like a dreamy Japanese variant on "Splendor in the Grass." The writer-director Tran Anh Hung draws out the sex-can-drive-you-crazy aspect of adolescent torment and gives it an almost hallucinatory shimmer. He's a beautiful imagemaker ("Cyclo" and "The Scent of Green Papaya" were visually ravishing) but he often relies on imagery alone to create drama. It's not enough.

There are compensations, though. You can blissfully zone out on the director's pretty pictures, which is a permissible indulgence when the pictures are as delicately alluring as they are here. Also, the performances of Kikuchi and Hatsune are first-rate. Both actresses know how to do hysteria. In the case of Hatsune, the hysteria is banked, which gives Hatsumi's final scene with Watanabe, as she confesses her helpless love for her hopeless boyfriend, an aching sorrow. Grade: B (Unrated.)


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!