I was ecstatic to hear that Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no Mori ノルウェイの森) was to be made into a feature film by French-Vietnamese director Trần Anh Hùng (Cyclo, The Scent of Green Papaya) last year. Obviously, some of my friends who have read the said tome thought it was somewhat sacrilegious to make a film out of it as it would taint the lasting impression it had on the reader. Perhaps being of the not-so-pembaca-buku-yang-tegar variety myself, I welcome a more visual interpretation of any literary work (I still haven’t read my comic version of Dostoevsky!). I may be a tad lazy in that department but in my defence, I don’t lack imagination. Hah. One thing, though – if you were to ask me to pick out a book I’ve read and describe it in detail, I’d fail miserably, especially when I’ve read it 4 years ago.

As I entered the Showroom (Sheffield’s independent arthouse cinema – where else can you watch a non-Hindi film with subtitles), all I could remember from the book was that the story revolved around the protagonist’s love for two women, one slipping away and one he wasn’t sure about. I remembered the sanatorium out in the woods where the former love interest was at and the outgoing nature of the latter. And who can forget Storm Trooper (not of the Galactic Empire variety)! The moment the film started, the story came back to me in parts, like a typical Murakami dream sequence.

Without doing a football commentary of the film, I can tell you as the end credits roll, I was well pleased. It wasn’t perfect but I felt Trần did the book justice. In the first quarter, I could see how parts of the book were skimmed – like how little we saw of Storm Trooper, Toru’s strange dorm mate. For people who haven’t read the book, they’ll come out of the cinema saying what a weird bloke he was, but I was happy enough to go, “Ah, that’s what you look like, you weird sonofabitch” and unlike the non-reader, I do know more of this character from the book and don’t require every single nuance of the read spelt out on the silver screen. I guess that’s what a film with an adapted screenplay is all about – reinterpretation. And it doesn’t have to fit with a reader’s interpretation to be good. Unless the director balls it up big time, obviously, and this wasn’t the case in this instance. Other bits in the film that uncannily made remember the book included the bilik basuh baju (when Toru received Naoko’s letters) at the dorm and the woods outside Kyoto leading to the sanatorium where Naoko was at. I swear, they were as I imagined it. The numerous music references in the book were unfortunately less depicted in the film. There was the jazz record store Toru worked in (like the first chapter of Ghostwritten – now that’s another adapted screenplay waiting to be written) – a nod to Murakami’s love of the genre, and Reiko (Naoko’s confidante at the sanatorium) singing Norwegian Wood. And you’d never guess who did the film’s soundtrack – Radiohead’s own Jonny Greenwood.

Pin Bing Lee’s (he also did Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love) camera work is fantastic. Some of the vignettes like when Toru was standing by the brown textured wall at the swimming pool, and the windy grassland where Naoko gave Toru a handjob, were somewhat typical of those seen in filem seni berat (yeah, the kind where you nod knowingly whilst playing with that non-existent goatee on your chin) but then you kind of expected that. It’ll be more refreshing to see mainstream cinema adopt that kind of visuals. Oh, like most seni berat films, this film has a bit of sex in it. Defo not gratuitous (but I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it wasn’t).

I have to say, like my first celluloid Murakami celluloid experience that was Tony Takitani, the three main actors were cast spot on – Matsuyama Kenichi (Death Note, and Krauser in DMC!!!) as Watanabe (we know him more as his given name Toru in the book), Kikuchi Rinko (just found out that this woman had been an Oscar nominee) as the fragile Naoko and Mizuhara Kiko (she reminded me so much of Deanna Yusuf) as Midori. Although I would’ve liked to see Midori more as she was in the book – she seemed to lack a degree of, err… kenakalan (this blogpost title’s a quote from the book uttered by her). The most she said in the film was asked about the masturbatory habits of the male inhabitants in the building Toru lived in.

Go watch it if you loved the book, or anything by Murakami. But you won’t get to hear Midori finish the quote above – “Then I’ll be nice and help you get rid of it”.