Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood

A story about sex, madness and suicides – moreover, about love

It is really hard not to compare a book and a movie based on it.

I guess it is part of the art experience and almost necessary, if you have both red the book and seen the movie. Anyway, as many critics and people in the audience, I keep doing it.

Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood is maybe the best book I have red this year. Sitting in the tube, identifying with Midori’s (see later) character, I couldn’t get my eyes off the 400-pages-paperback after I had opened it some weeks before the UK’s premiere of the movie.
Later, in the movie theatre, watching the filming of the novel, I couldn’t get my eyes off the screen, (but to be honest, I was still missing the book).

The story is about a Japanese boy, Toru, living in Tokyo in the 1960’s. His best friend, Kizuki, commits suicide at the age of 17, which leaves Toru and Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, in bereavement with lots of questions without answers. After Kizuki’s death, Toru and Naoko separate for a while, but meet in Tokyo a bit later, and start to spend time together again. Toru loves Naoko, maybe has always loved, but she loves him in more friendly way. However, for them others Toru and Naoko are something that Kizuki was never for either of them.

In Toru’s life there are a few people who are important for him, one way or another: Nagasawa is an outgoing and good-looking guy who shows Toru how to drink and get ladies, and Midori is a spontaneous but hard-working student who, eventually, makes (both consciously and unconsciously) Toru realize that the life has to go on.

Actually both of Toru’s friends walk to his life without his effort, nevertheless, as they come, Toru is happy to walk with them. Toru isn’t automatically a really social person; he needs a little push for it. That is something, among others, that Toru shares with Naoko.

The name of the tale Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no Mori) comes from the Beatles’ song that is played often by Reiko, Naoko’s ‘big sister’ and support in an asylum where Naoko moves. The asylum is far away from Japanese metropolises, in the woods, and is a place where Naoko tries to solve her mind. Toru visits her there and becomes close also with Reiko – in many ways. Norwegian Wood is Naoko’s favourite song. In the movie, when singing it, Reiko’s Japanese pronunciation is really cute, maybe a little bit corn for a western listener, but the atmosphere both in the book and in the movie is beautiful.

And beautiful is the story, in general, indeed. Of course the film misses out many things from the novel, but it shows amazing landscapes and beautiful people that are difficult to imagine while reading. The story has too many broken lives and miserable life stories with a few, if any, answers. For example, the reason for Reiko being in asylum stays mysterious to the audience who haven’t red the novel.

Moreover, sometimes it’s frustrating both to read and to see how Toru or Naoko, for example, don’t realise to, or just can’t, enjoy their young life. That’s why I love the part, in which Naoko shakes Toru out when he asks why she left her boyfriend. And the answer is… because of Toru, of course!

Somehow, often, my favourite character of the novel is a character of the movie that I like least – maybe I give too big pressures to the interesting and challenging character from the book. In this case, Naoko did have big pressures, but she acted the character pretty well, I think. Taro is not only the main character but also the narrator, so obviously he has more time to tell reader about himself in the book: the reader gets better impression of his real character than only the viewer. Naoko is distant but therefore fascinating in both pieces of art.

Norwegian Wood has lot of sexual dealings, but especially the film shows them romantically, since the message in the story is strong – to love. I warmly recommend the novel as well as the film.
Especially the novel.