Norwegian Wood

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).

Norwegian Wood Book

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.

Norwegian Wood Movie

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.

8 thoughts on “Norwegian Wood

  1. For some reason, Norwegian Wood is the book I like the least from Murakami, but I’m afraid that the main reason is that I read it in French and that the translation is not all that great, as I read everywhere that the strong point of this book is the style, and I found that it was pretty bland, especially compared to other Murakami’s books. I should try to read it in English one day (or in Japanese of course, but we’ll have to wait for a few years or decades for that).

    As far as the movie is concerned, I have yet to watch it, but I don’t think a movie adaptation should be judged along the lines or whether it’s just like the book or not. Cinema and literature are two very different storytelling medium, and I believe that an adaptation that would be just like the book (any book) would be a pretty poor movie most of the time.

    • Thanks for the comments. What other Murakami’s books have you read?

      Agree with you about film adaptation – shouldn’t really be compared with the original book, completely different medium used.

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