Thursday, 17 March 2011

norwegian wood (d. anh hang trun)

My erstwhile friend Mr C, at a point in his life where he was internet dating, used to say that there were two things which every woman he met put at a premium. One was lazy Sunday mornings. The other was Murakami. Personally, I resisted getting caught up in the craze for the Japanese writer that seemed to sweep London. It's to the credit of Mr Trun that his film version of the successful book leads me to think my snobbery was, as usual, misplaced.

On one level, there's something scarily melodramatic about the story. Girl's boyfriend kills himself, boyfriend's best friend falls in love with girl, who can't get over her ex. Then someone else falls for best friend who can't get over girl. Who kills herself and thereby cuts Gordian knot. There's an extended anguish scene as Watanabe suffers beside a suddenly even more portentous sea after Naoko's demise which in another film would be teeth-pullingly indulgent. But somehow, Trun gets away with it. Just like he gets away with the slight vaguaries of the script as it attempts to squash the novelist's narrative into cinematic form. There's some intriguing but redundant social protest scenes in the opening act, and the exact purpose of Wanatabe's decadent friend Nagaswa remains unclear. Nevertheless, the film, which is over two hours long, gradually seems to find its groove. Wanatabe's tragic compromise becomes more and more understandable. The tortured architectonics of love, something that has to be endured as much as savoured, slowly make some kind of sense.

The scale of the film allows the director to investigate an idea of romantic love, its longeurs, its wayward course, its sometime futility, in a way that a 'tighter' narrative might struggle to achieve. This is territory which the novel usually deals with more convincingly than cinema, because the novelist has dispensation to let the story wander where it will. Had the screenplay police got hold of this film, they would have squeezed the heart out of it. Young lovers do tend to spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, trying to find their way, and Trun's depiction of Wanatabe's puzzling journey captures this acutely.

Well, anyway, it convinced me. Maybe it's down to the lush cinematography and the winsome Japanese actors. Maybe I'm seduced by the exoticism. But to me it feels like, fifteen years after he made Cyclo, Trun's almost lazy style was made for Murakami's romantic tale. To be watched on a Sunday afternoon. After spending the morning being lazy yourself.

No comments: