"Norwegian Wood' revisited

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Author gave Vietnamese-French director leeway to make the "best film possible"

As the film adaptation of bestselling Japanese novel "Norwegian Wood" premiered to resounding applause at the Venice Film Festival last week, director Tran Anh Hung said he didn't intend to make a Japanese-style movie, but one that's completely unfamiliar to Japanese audiences.

"I want Japanese viewers to enjoy a different flavor, or watch their country's work in a different way, strange and seductive," he was cited by a local newspaper as saying.

Even the language gap Hung used interpreters to direct the all-Japanese cast was a way to "find a different energy," he told AFP.

The "difference" has also extended to the music used in the film.

Apart from the emblematic Beatles' song that the book and the film got their title from, Hung has shunned familiar tunes from the era, preferring to use "less well-known music but with strong emotional power... mostly to avoid the nostalgic side," Hung told reporters earlier.

"The story could otherwise be seen as something softer, nicer," he said. "Instead it's seen as harsher, crueler because of the music."

Around 1,000 people at Sala Grande on September 2 welcomed the film with a three-minute applause at the end.

"Norwegian Wood", Hung's fifth film in a 17-year career, is one of 24 films vying for the Golden Lion at the festival, which opened September 1 and runs through September 11.

Produced by Fuji Television and Asmik Ace Entertainment, the film will be screened widely in Japan from December 11 and later in 36 countries, including Vietnam, the Lao Dong reported.


(From 2nd, L) Japanese actor Kenichi Matsuyama, French film director Tran Anh Hung , Japanese actresses Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara arrive for the screening of "Norumei no mori" (Norwegian Wood) at the 67th Venice Film Festival on September 2 at Venice Lido.

Paris-based Hung said the pacing, the blowing wind, the music and other atmospherics all helped create the tension in "Norwegian Wood."

The film, based on a best-selling novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, tells the story of love, sexuality and loss mainly through suicide and is set in Japan in the volatile 1960s. More than ten million copies of the book were sold in Japanese and 2.6 million in 33 other languages.

"The film is rich in physical variation," the Vietnamese-born Hung told AFP, discussing scenes in which the lead character Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) paces around an apartment with the troubled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), and later tries to keep up with her in a green field.

Watanabe falls in love with Naoko despite her imbalance over losing her sister and boyfriend to suicide.

While promising to wait for Naoko until she overcomes the trauma at a special sanatorium, Watanabe gets deeply involved with another woman, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), tumbling into romantic confusion.

"In the field scene the conversation is very physical, Naoko is talking about not being able to get aroused with her previous boyfriend," Hung said. "In fact it's a confession, which in church you would do sitting down."

Scenes in which blowing wind competes with the dialogue "also adds tension," Hung, 47, said of a story that in book form "has a very intimate relationship with the reader."

In another interview with a local news website, he said "I have adapted the story with natural emotions, without hesitation or fear."

But the film adaptation "was not just adapting a story... it was also adapting all the poetic and emotional ramifications that the book provokes in you," said Hung, who won the top prize Golden Lion in Venice in 1995 for "Cyclo" and the Golden Camera award at Cannes 1993 for Mui du du xanh (The scent of green papaya).

"I had to find a way to unlock this personal side," Hung said.

Many love scenes in the film focus on the lovers' faces.

"I wanted to show the impact on Naoko when she made love with Watanabe. The rest could only distract from what is most important in the film," Hung said.

The Paris-based director had several exchanges with Murakami at the start of the project, but eventually, Hung recalled, the author said: "Do the film you have in mind. All that is needed is for you to make the best film possible."

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