When I went into Norwegian Wood, I knew almost nothing about it. I knew that it was a Japanese movie (based on a rather popular book, which I haven’t read), and I was vaguely familiar that its title was also the title of a Beatles song. I foolishly allowed myself to think that perhaps the film would be similar to Golden Slumber (an excellent Japanese movie that shares its title with a Beatles song) or Fish Story (an excellent Japanese Movie whose title is also the title of a song featured prominently in the movie). That was not a good assumption.
Watanabe, Kizuki, and Naoko were like three peas in a pod when they were growing up, but when Kizuki and Naoko started dating, they still hung out with Watanabe but he was kind of a third wheel. When Kizuki committed suicide, both Watanabe and Naoko were devastated, and they kind of went their separate ways. But after they run into each other in a Tokyo park, they rekindle their relationship and start to get together again on a regular basis. On Naoko’s 20th birthday, their celebration turns amorous, and they make love. But being a typically insensitive guy, Watanabe manages to upset Naoko and she needs some time away from Watanabe and from the memories of Kizuki that accompany him.
Months later, Watanabe receives word from Naoko and learns that she has checked herself into a kind of mental health commune where she’s had some time to think things through. She is ready to declare her love for Watanabe, but not her sanity, so she is to stay at the treatment center, where all visits must be chaperoned (although they’re apparently really bad about enforcing that). But all this time away from Naoko has made Watanabe realize his interest in another woman (Midori, who also has a boyfriend, but neither of them see their current dysfunctional relationships as a significant hindrance to their own satisfaction), and Watanabe’s roommate Nagasawa doesn’t set the best example with his own constant cheating.
If I did have to compare Norwegian Wood to another movie, I’d say that it seemed pretty similar to last year’s Like Crazy. Both feature overly-emotional young adults who can’t seem to tie themselves to just one person and, and I found myself unable to sympathize with the protagonists for either film when they are bemoaning their situation when it is mostly of their own creation.
I found it very hard to get pulled into the story, in part because the suicide near the beginning of the film comes out of nowhere and is left completely unexplained, but mostly because the film progressed very slowly and without any kind of real reward for the viewer. I couldn’t really relate to any of the characters or to their problems, and it didn’t give me much incentive to try.