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This Bird Has Flown

Norwegian Wood (2010)

Soda Pictures/Red Flag Releasing

How do you make a movie that feels like 1967? Is it a special type of film stock? A perfectly chosen soundtrack? A kaleidoscope of peace signs and bell-bottoms? In the case of “Norwegian Wood” — the film adaptation of the Haruki Murakami novel — director Tran Anh Hung tapped into something much more nuanced and ethereal in his treatment of the story of two lost college students in love (or lust) in 1960s’ Tokyo.

Toru (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) are college students brought together by the suicide of Kizuki (Kengo Kora), Toru’s best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend. The two find themselves first drawn together by shared chemistry and then torn apart by Naoko’s deep depression and the appearance of a pretty, charismatic student (Kiko Mizuhara) who has her sights set on Toru. All the characters appear oblivious to the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, but signs of the times permeate every corner of the film. (A slyly funny scene follows Toru as he makes his way through a fast-moving crowd of revolutionary students, like a lone fish swimming against the tide.) The beauty of the film is how the historical markers dance on the edge of the frame — never overtaking the story, yet still defining it. And while it would be nearly impossible to replicate Mr. Murakami's trademark literary style, between the beautifully shifting hues and ever-roving camera, the film achieves its own dreamlike vocabulary.

But while the setting and atmosphere is treated delicately, the intensity of feeling between the main characters is so strong and so relentless that their interpersonal drama — while lyrical and well-acted — winds up becoming exhausting. The inner turmoil of youth and lust that was expressed so well in the novel can feel melodramatic and humorless on the big screen. Mr. Murakami’s legions of fans will have the final say on whether “Norwegian Wood” is a decent adaptation. On its own merits, the film works best not as a meditation on relationships, but more as a love letter to a very particular time and place.


Opens on Jan. 6 in New York.

Written and directed by Tran Anh Hung, based on the novel by Haruki Murakami; director of photography, Mark Lee Ping Bin; edited by Mario Battistel; music by Jonny Greenwood; production design by Yen Khe Luguern and Norifumi Ataka; costumes by Ms. Luguern; produced by Shinji Ogawa; released by Soda Pictures and Red Flag Releasing. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 13 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Kenichi Matsuyama (Watanabe), Rinko Kikuchi (Naoko), Kiko Mizuhara (Midori), Reika Kirishima (Reiko Ishida), Kengo Kora (Kizuki), Eriko Hatsune (Hatsumi) and Tetsuji Tamayama (Nagasawa).


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