Art & Design


Norwegian Wood: Interview with the Director

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The mid-morning light is soft in the suite above Chapel Street. Tran Anh Hung, the Oscar-nominated and Golden Lion winning French-Vietnamese director, sips gently on a freshly delivered cup of tea. Leaning towards me when he speaks, he exudes the same serene intensity as his latest film, Norwegian Wood—an adaptation of Haruki Murikami’s beloved 1987 novel.

“It deals with love and loss,” says Tran. “I think it’s something that is really deeply buried inside of us. The book, when you read it, it’s like it opens all these doors—these hidden doors inside of us. Somehow we have the feeling that we are discovered by the book…that’s why I wanted to make it into a movie.”

Set in 1960s Japan, Norwegian Wood follows Toru Watanabe, a quiet student whose life is rocked by the suicide of his best friend Kizuki. In their shared grief Watanabe and Kizuki’s ex-girlfriend, Naoko, find themselves slipping into a relationship of their own. However, when the troubled Naoko—psychologically and emotionally unable to cope with the loss of Kizuki—withdraws to a remote sanitarium, Watanabe faces a loss which may affect him even more deeply than his friend’s suicide.

“You have to be faithful to the story; faithful to what you have felt,” says Tran of adapting Murikami’s novel. “Since [making a film] is such a long process, you can lose the most important thing of the project. But during the writing what happened is that naturally I built something inside of me. I mean that it’s like an animal that moves or it could be like a piece of music…this right feeling can only come from what’s inside of me—this piece of music that I have inside of me.”

Given Tran’s choice of metaphor, it’s not surprising that the film’s music stands out. Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood continues where he left off with Bodysong and There Will Be Blood, delivering another pitch perfect score to complement Tran’s subtle direction.

“I only use music to confirm emotion…and that’s what I said to Johnny Greenwood” says Tran. “With Johnny we just had to check out the texture of the sound, the colour. You know he showed me samples and I said ‘I like this, not this.’ Then he was free to work on it.”

The film’s musicality also extends to Mark Lee’s sensual cinematography, imbuing Tran’s film with a powerful emotional complexity belied by its still surface.

“It’s [like Watanabe’s] life is suspended somehow,” says Tran. “We need to find that kind of camera movement to express physically to the audience his state of mind. It’s needs to be lyrical, it needs to give a place, it needs to give wings to the emotions of the characters. It opens the space…you are not only in the drama, you need to fly out of the drama.”

On the screen, Tran’s film comes across much like the man himself: earnest, subtle and complex—absorbed with emotional minutia. Perfectly paced for an idle Sunday afternoon, Norwegian Wood opens in limited release Thursday 6 October.

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