And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.
—Norwegian Wood by the Beatles
I opened the month of August by watching the 2010 Japanese film, Norwegian Wood, based on the novel of the prolific writer, Murakami Haruki. To be candid, I never read the book that is why I have to compare it none other than what I perceived in the film.
The story revolves around Watanabe Toru (Matsuyama Ken’ichi), a student during the 1960’s. It was the era where Japan looks very much like the Japan today minus the cellular phones and other jaw dropping gadgets and ultra fast trains. Going back to the story, Toru was involved with two women, Naoko and Midori, which were interestingly, very different in character. Naoko (Kikuchi Rinko) is a quiet girl who had really low self-esteem. She was the girlfriend of Toru’s best friend Kizuki. Naoko and Kizuki had always been together since they were three years old. They were almost never apart until Kizuki, the reason was neither supplied nor implied in the story, took his own life. After Kizuki died, Toru moved to the city for college where he had a roommate who was popular with women. He introduced Toru to some women whom he knew and Toru awakened his sexual side to the same.
Shortly after that, he met Naoko again. They meet during weekends and gradually became very close because of the mutual comfort they receive from each other from the lost of Kizuki. On the 20th birthday of Naoko, Toru took her virginity. She disappeared the next day and eventually settled in a secluded village where some people who suffered mental anguish such as her took sanctuary. Her feelings on both past and present conflicts as one part of her forever died together with Kizuki. Toru sometimes visits Naoko but it only pained him seeing that Naoko cannot give himself fully to him. Naoko is always with another patient, Reiko, a middle-age woman, who acts like a guardian to her. Reiko sang Naoko’s favorite song, “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles. Obviously, that was the film namesake.
Back on the university, Toru became close with Midori (Mizuhara Kiko) who was the exact opposite of Naoko. She was vibrant, self-confident and unable to contain herself from saying what is going on her mind. She is bold enough to tell Toru her sexual fantasies over her. Although Toru admits to Midori that he is in love with someone else [Naoko] and that Midori has a boyfriend in her hometown, this did not prevent both from falling in love with each other. That further complicated the emotions of Toru. Toru decided to go the village where Naoko was but bid Midori goodbye first and expressed his feelings before he left. Midori admitted that she now broke up with her boyfriend. She also told him that he would wait for him until he comes back, embracing and thinking only of her.
When Toru and Naoko saw each other one winter day, he immediately told her about his plans on leaving his boarding house and rent an apartment. He asked Naoko to come with him, however, the latter did not give a direct answer but promised that she would think about it. Toru went back alone and tried looking for Midori but she was already avoiding her calls and even telling him outright that she does not want to talk to him. A few days later, the worst news arrived to Toru as Naoko hanged herself. Her death impacted his life greatly and he went somewhere very isolated to mourn for Naoko. When he returned to his apartment, he saw Reiko waiting for him outside. They comforted each other and then Reiko asked a request to Toru to sleep with her which shocked him but eventually granted her request.
The film ended with Toru phoning Midori. He was professing his love for her at the phone, even using the word “Aishiteru” which the Japanese people hardly use for saying how much they love someone because it was very emphatic. Midori was initially cold when she answered the phone but Toru’s words softened her and asked her where he was. It ends here, not knowing where Toru is and what would happen between him and Midori.
My thoughts on the story are mixed. First, let’s discuss the good parts of the film. I love Toru’s actor, Matsuyaman Kenichi, interpreted his character. Toru may look like a detached character from the world but you could feel his love and compassion to the two women. Surprisingly, his actor was L Lawliet’s actor from the infamous live-action films of Death Note. You would really see the versatility of this young actor. The other characters were picked well too, except that I was kind of annoyed with the actress of Naoko. One would hear fingernails screeched down the blackboard when she cries, or rather wails. Probably, that’s how Murakami-san wrote it but it really got into my nerves. Lastly, you would really commend how good the background music made for this film. It was made very powerfully and emotionally that it really captures your heart and empathize with twisted and melancholic emotions of the characters.
Personally, the bad parts of the plot is why they focus how sex was used to be determinative the feelings of the characters. Like for example, when Toru and Naoko first spent the night together, that’s the only point where in they realized that they actually have this existing love each other. Second example was, it was only after Toru and Reiko had sex where both characters fathomed who really matters in their life. For Reiko, it was her husband and child whist for Toru, it was Midori. I thought that it was rather odd making sex as ascertaining love. It is not debatable that love is different from sex. Sex may be a part of love but definitely not its determinative factor. That concept is particularly incomprehensible especially on the part where Toru and Reiko had sex to realize what they wanted in life.
My last comment would go on who Toru truly loved between Naoko and Midori. I would have to definitely say Midori. I believe that though Toru had strong feelings for Naoko that is not purely love. In a way, he is morally obligated to protect and care for Naoko because she is her best friend’s girlfriend, childhood friend and basically, his soul mate. On the other end, Naoko may have taken her life understanding fully that she never really loved Toru and that in a way used him to get over Kizuki which she can’t move on from. Kizuki is clearly her dream, her man and her raison‘d etre. For Naoko, without Kizuki, nothing makes sense in her life, in her universe. It incised her heart even more after she realized that she kind of betrayed Kizuki’s memory by sleeping with his best friend.
In contrast, Toru loved Midori without any mental obligation or reasons. He loved her even if she suspected that she already have a boyfriend. He loved her straightforwardness and her kindness. In return, Midori truly loved him too. She broke off with her boyfriend and swore to wait for Toru to come back to her and embrace and love only her without any assurance that it was what Toru would do. The ending too, was a hint that they would eventually be together now that Naoko is gone, Midori’s boyfriend is gone and that Toru is now sure of his feelings to Midori, that in this world, nothing else matters to him but her.
Naturally, I won’t be surprised if you, my darling reader, would rebut my statements and observations above because of the several interpretations we perceive from the dynamism and fullness of the characters made in the movie. Moreover, the open-endedness even opened more questions on the minds of the perceiver than answers. But that is the beauty of life embarked on literature—we all make and shed our own light on its obscurity.