I just finished reading my third Haruki Murakami (1Q84, Sputnik Sweetheart), a tragic drama titled Norwegian Wood. Published in Japan in 1987, this book has been translated twice – by Alfred Birnbaum (who translated many of Murakami’s earlier novels) in 1989 in Japan by Kodansha, and then by Jay Rubin in 2000 for publication outside Japan (cover shown below).
The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s and the title is based on a Beatles’ song of the same name. The story is about a young 20 year old college student named Toru Watanabe, who develops relationships with two very different women – the emotionally troubled Naoko (girlfriend of his best friend who committed suicide at age 17) and his classmate, the outgoing and lively Midori. Other characters in the book include the playboy Nagasawa and his girlfriend Hatsumi, his strange and funny dorm roommate “Stormtrooper” and Reiko, a music teacher and inmate at Naoko’s sanatorium, who is Naoko’s roommate and plays Norwegian Wood with her guitar.
As with the other Murakami books I have previously read, I enjoyed this book with its interesting characters and rich storyline. I found it very well written. Since the story was set in the late 60s before mobile phones and email, writing letters was the way to communicate.
A film adaptation by the Vietnamese-born French director Tran Anh Hung was released in Japan in 2010. The movie was presented at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.
It stars two of the biggest Japanese actors – Kenichi Matsuyama (Death Note, Gantz, Kaiji) as Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi (Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress in her role in the 2006 Hollywood film titled Babel) as Naoko. Newcomer Kiko Mizuhara played the role of Midori.
The movie was not bad and was beautifully filmed (especially the winter scenes), but as with film adaptations, some details were missed. The story centered more on Watanabe and Naoko, less on Midori and no mention of Stormtrooper at all.