Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was always going to be a difficult book to make a film out of, being as it is an extended interior dialogue with very little external incident. The story, if you can call it that, is set in late-60s Japan, and is related by a sensitive 19 year old student whose relationship with the fragile girlfriend of a boyhood friend who has recently inexplicably committed suicide is complicated firstly by her depression and withdrawal, and later by a rival who has her own problems. The Da Vinci Code this is not.
Anh Hung Tran’s adaptation is respectful and tasteful and sensitive and all that, but you’ve got to wonder why they bothered. It looks beautiful, particularly the bits that take place in woodland and by rivers, but it’s really just two hours of attractive young people talking earnestly to each other, looking upset, having the occasional bout of crying or joyless sex, or just looking meaningfully in the middle distance. There’s lots of voiceover, which sounds like it’s lifted straight from the book. It’s notable for some unusually frank discussion of sexual dysfunction, and for its quietness (although the soundtrack does ramp up towards the end with some mournful violins), but I found it a real struggle to keep my attention on it. Murakami’s prose is airy and highly readable (in the English translation anyway) – this is just stodgy, and made me dread the thought of a film of The Catcher In The Rye even more than I did already.
Footnote: This film doesn’t have much to do with the Beatles song of the same name, but a character does play it on acoustic guitar at one point, and they did manage to license the original to play over the end credits. Wonder how much it cost them?