Haruki Murakami’s novel seems impossible to be adapted to the big screen because of its non-linear format and its emotionally heavy content. More than twenty years after it was originally published in Japan, a ballsy Vietnamese director, Tran Anh Hung took on the challenge and he reached my expectations.
The film is very faithful to the book and it managed to capture its essence without lengthening the running time. The plot is a coming of age story set in late 1960’s Tokyo with an introverted, bookish young man as a narrator named Watanabe and how his relationships with two women, the disturbed, melancholic Naoko, girlfriend of his best friend who committed suicide during the beginning of the movie and the vivacious, outgoing and free-spirited Midori and how it molded him into a man.
The movie is visually striking – with its cinematography, which vividly showed the contrast of the seasons from the lush greenery of spring to the mystical whiteness of the winters. Kudos to the screenwriters for making a screenplay that is linear, coherent with appropriately placed flashbacks in between and to the young cast, for the acting which was subdued (along with the raunchy sex scenes) yet their faces are full of emotion and meaning – from a glare, stare and even a seemingly nonchalant action conveyed some inner feeling of the character. Kenichi Matsuyama carried the whole film in his shoulders and he made it look so easy. The costumes were very psychedelic from the groovy pants down to the Jackie O shades, it was very reminiscent of the era.I bet those who lived during the time period can relate.
This movie is proof that the quality and class of the Japanese film industry is not deteriorating. It probably might be in a stagnant phase but with actors, producers, screenwriters and directors involved in this picture, who are willing to take a risk, then they are still headed in the right direction albeit slow.
Watch it with: your best friends who also loved the book after a hearty Japanese cuisine pig out, so you can share notes (geek alert!)
Do not watch if: you are not into films with loooooong camera sequences of mountains and faces ala “Brokeback Mountain”, not interested in foreign films and looking for frontal nudity and sexual intercourse.
8.5 out 10 stars – Highly recommended!