To the uneducated Norwegian Wood may sound like a movie about a forest in Norway. It’s not. It may also sound like it’s a movie about the Beatles, since they had a track called Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). It’s not. Instead it’s based on a Japanese novel, which took its title from a Beatles track, which took its title from cheap decor made of wood from Norway.
To be clear: the film Norwegian Wood has no Norway. And no woods.
Instead Norwegian Wood is a Japanese coming-of-age film which centres on a young man called Watanabe. The film opens with Wantabe’s best friend, Kizuki, committing suicide. Around a year later, when Wantabe is at university in Tokyo, he meets Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, who like him is still struggling with the loss of their friend.
The two become romantically attached, but just after they get together, Naoko flees. Meanwhile, Watanabe meets Midori, a much more free-spirited and self-confident girl, who nevertheless has a few issues of her own. The rest of the film sees Watanabe moving between Naokoa, who checks herself into a sanitarium in a remote part of Japan, and Midori, still in Toyko.
As the plot suggests, this is a film which deals with the impact of loss on an individual’s life. All the characters in the film are struggling to cope with the bereavement of someone close to them. The film uses silence beautifully to help convey this sense of loss. This allows the audience time to consider the emotions each character is experiencing, but which are too big for them to ever fully articulate.
Another important theme is sexuality. Each of the characters have different experiences and opinions on how their desires should be expressed. Whether it’s one character trapped by their body’s inability to express their sexuality, or another claiming sex and relationships can be independent: this is a theme which is right at the centre of the film.
These themes, along with the setting and writing all work beautifully together to create a film full of sadness, thought and discovery. By the time the film ends, the journey you’ve been on with these characters feels like enough material for three films. To describe it as emotionally dense would be an understatement.
Perhaps what gives it this emotional depth is the respect given to each and every individual in the film. Whether they’re on the screen for two minutes, like Kizuku, or virtually the entire film, like Watanabe, you really get a sense of the soul behind the flesh and bone of every single character.
Norwegian Wood is an amazingly affecting piece of the struggle and journey of being human. A very involving, spacious and beautiful film you can’t help but be impacted by.