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Since childhood, Watanabe, Naoko, and Kizuki have been inseparable, but an unexpected tragedy rips the trio apart. After moving to Tokyo to attend college, Watanabe struggles to find peace, and instead finds Naoko years later. Though a relationship blossoms, their past still haunts them, driving a wedge between the two. When Watanabe meets another girl, one who happens to be bubbly, confident, and the complete opposite of Naoko, he wonders if he should hold onto his pain or move on from it. Set in the 1960s, the culture simmers with political unrest. Students push to create their own identity, to shape their own world, much like Watanabe’s efforts to find himself.
Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s hit novel of the same name, Norwegian Wood seems torn between making a good film and staying loyal to the book. Clocking in at two hours and 13 minutes, it crams a host of characters and lots of unnecessary plot points into an already beefy story. It shifts between coyly withholding details and suddenly divulging startling-yet-unimportant information. Moments pop up leaving you wondering, “Wait, what?” before the film gallops off into the unknown, the details in question never touched on again.
But the film is beautiful, and that fact just might make it worth watching if solid cinematography and art direction set your heart aflutter. Writer/director Ahn Dung Tran has crafted quite a lovely film, though the script itself suffers from poor construction. Think vast fields of blinding white snow, long blades of grass undulating in the wind, and bodies clasping together for comfort at dusk.
From the outset, Norwegian Wood embarks on a heavy story, asking audiences to bear the burden of heartache along with the film’s characters. But for all the effort involved, there’s little payoff; you barely scratch the surface of their misery, never truly getting at the root or striking up a strong connection with anyone. Past the two-hour mark, you might start clawing for something to hold on to, finding that style alone can’t keep even this beautiful film afloat forever.