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Norwegian Wood
Tran Anh Hung's latest film takes a beautiful look at loss, love, sex and death
by Greg Stefano
on 02 January 2012
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In a tale of passion, pain and friendship, the film Norwegian Wood explores deep-seated themes of loss and sexuality. Based on the book of the same title, the film takes place amid the civil turmoil of 1960s Japan, following the story of three young lovers whose paths cross in a tangle of past personal history and future potential. The central character Watanabe, played by Kenichi Matsuyama, is torn between two women—one of whom he is bound to by the suicide of their mutual childhood friend. The resulting emotional distress leads to a tumultuous relationship marred by separation, loss and, ultimately, by death. Directed by Tran Anh Hung, the film probes deep into the young-adult psyche, confronting common difficulties that are born from the transition into adulthood.

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Filmed on location in Japan, the cultural and geographical elements of the country play out strongly in the film's visual narrative. The outstanding imagery enhances the poetic nature of the story, the beautifully composed shots teasing at the isolation characters encounter as they try and relate to one another. While the screenplay communicates the story effectively, the cinematography is the shining star of the film, cementing the various elements together into compelling film. The actors' fantastic performances bring the characters to life and draw the audience deep into the story.

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The sexually charged film also explores how passion, lust and attraction fit into already complicated relationships, but portrays sex differently than what is common in Western cinema. The sexual interactions of the characters lack any moments of over-the-top uncontrollable passion, and there is no effort to create an atmosphere of animal lust, resulting in a more natural and sincere story.

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Though somewhat slow at times, overall, the film marks an excellent exploration of the suffering that comes with love. The film opens 6 January 2012 at the IFC Center in New York City.

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