One of the most important novels in the last 30 years, Haruki Murakami's nostalgic Norwegian Wood is a tale of love and loss set against a background of social revolution. The highly anticipated film adaptation will certainly be a test for Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung. We spoke to him about it. Don't forget to check out our graphic design competition for the film's poster!
You mentioned that Murakami gave you feedback to help revise your first draft of the screenplay, and he added new dialogue. Was there anything that he wanted included/left out of the script that surprised you?
Haruki Murakami gave me a lot of ideas. Through his notes, I felt that he was very open to welcome new ideas; and it worked as an invitation to creativity. So I integrated new scenes that he suggested and added some others of my own invention. And all these new scenes took a long time and a few drafts later (more than 20!) to completely disappear from the script only because hopefully we have a producer who was doing his job by reminding that we should not make a four hour film.
Working with a foreign crew, did you feel like an outsider on your own film, a little like our introvert protagonist Watanabe?
No, not at all because it was my decision to do without a small French crew. And in addition to it, the Japanese crew was very eager to make me feel comfortable.
A Japanese novel filtering Western culture (Beatles, Hermann Hesse, Jazz etc) is adapted by a Vietnamese director, (having read a French translation) with Japanese actors, subtitled for an English audience. As you've said there is "uniquely Japanese culture and sensibility palpable in the novel". Is it possible for cultural signifiers to remain intact throughout this process?
Why cultural signifiers should remain intact? Has it ever been the case? Unchanging cultural signifiers? You mean like that uncontacted tribe?
You mentioned that you enjoyed making a movie in a language you don't understand, and found the dialogue to be musical. Abstracted aestheticism is a thread throughout the book. Do you think this comes through in the film?
The right abstracted aestheticism in a work of art can only appear when the specific language of this art is worked in a sophisticated and calculated way. It touched you in a very deep, secret and mysterious manner. I do think that we have this in the film. Otherwise, how would a scene like the one after the love-making scene between Watanabe and Reiko could be in the film? You see Watanabe standing on the tree and Naoko was leaning against the same tree and Reiko was squatting near the water. As the scene appears without any narrative necessity, you immediately feel that, after the sorrow and the mourning, the characters have made up with life. The way this emotion is created can only be done with the specific language of cinema.
The film has been commended for Mark Lee's beautiful camerawork, though I believe he was initially skeptical about filming in HD. Why was it important to you to use the technology?
The skin is more precise with HD. It gives me the right feeling of sensuality. Plus, everyone has a digital camera to take photos of his family. The texture of digital image is becoming a new reality.
Finally - we are having a competition to design posters for the film's release. Do you have any tips for entrants, or any particular visual themes you think are important?
It’s a passionate love story. So…
Norwegian Wood is in cinemas March 11. And we have a graphic design competition for our readers to create a poster for it!