If someone were to ask you to name a notable, contemporary Vietnamese movie director, it’s hard not to mention Tran Anh Hùng as one of the most well-known and respectable Vietnamese movie directors of today’s film industry. You might have seen his works, such as The Scent of Green Papaya, which was nominated for 1993 Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film”; or Vertical Ray of the Sun, which depicts the reunion of three sisters in contemporary Hanoi. What both of these movies (and others among his works) share in common is an embedded sense of sparing dialogue and narrative. Tran Anh Hùng is a unique director in that he can tell a story through stunning cinematography as opposed to elaborate scripts and heavy dialogue.
Norwegian Wood (a reference to The Beatles’s song), his latest film, takes a bit of a different approach than some of Tran’s earlier works. The film is a direct adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s eponymous novel, set during the revolutionary robust 1960s in Tokyo. The story focuses on the narrative of Toru Watanabe (played by Japan’s Johnny Depp-like Matsuyama Kenichi) as he takes the reader through his experience coping with love, sexuality, and death. Norwegian Wood is very much like the Asian version of Catcher in the Rye, as the text is essentially a coming-of-age story, taking the readers through Watanabe’s various transitional stages of college life. The novel also introduces us to two of Watanabe’s love interests: Naoko (played by Academy Award-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi), the beautiful yet emotionally distressed introvert, and Midori (played by Kiko Mizuhara), the spirited and lively extrovert.
In a recent interview, Tran mentioned that he was first exposed to Murakami’s Norwegian Wood back in 1994 and was immediately captivated by the novel’s marriage of beauty and suffering.
“Norwegian Wood is a fantastic novel that brilliantly portrays the radical inner lives of youth, through the character’s personal experiences. The book depicts young people, seeking to define their lives and accepting the consequences as they fall in love and honestly confront their emotions,” said Tran.
After finishing the novel, Tran was determined to create a movie adaptation with the official approval of Haruki Murakami. In 2004, Tran went through numerous screenplay drafts and proposals and worked hard to persuade the acclaimed author to approve his project (Murakami is quite protective of his written work — more so than most other authors). In 2008, Tran finally got the thumbs up and began casting his roles.
“I believe Haruki felt I had grasped the essence of his book and we were able to finish the film,” said Tran.
I’m confident that Tran was the perfect candidate when it came to adapting a Murakami novel. If there is anything that these two artists share in common, it is the uncanny ability to transform the mundane triviality of our everyday lives into something simply beautiful. Murakami does this through his writing and Tran achieves this through his cinematography. A perfect marriage of the two.
There are two reasons why I am fervently anticipating this film:
- Norwegian Wood was the first Haruki Murakami’s book I’ve read. Ever since that novel, I’ve indulged myself in many of his other collections including Kafka in the Shore and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
- Tran Anh Hùng is the first person to adapt any of Haruki Murakami’s novels into film (although Murakami’s shorty story “Tony Takitani” was also adapted in 2004). Murakami has been strictly protective over his work and the fact that he trusts a non-Japanese director to turn his novel into a movie greatly shows that he has confidence in Tran Anh Hùng directing skills.
So how about you? Do you think Tran’s adaptation will do Haruki’s justice? If you’ve seen it, what are some of your thoughts on the movie? Share your thoughts.
The movie already came out in Japan last year, but cross your fingers and hope that the film comes to a film festival near you!
References: Soda Pictures