Trần Anh Hùng’s ‘Norwegian Wood’: A Preview

Trần Anh Hùng

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood concerns a young university student’s encounters with love, death, and loss in 1960s Japan, as he is torn between his desires for two very different women. Filmmakers hoping to adapt the celebrated novel repeatedly approached Murakami. But he refused to permit an adaptation until asked, five years ago, by Trần Anh Hùng.

Trần is perhaps the most globally acclaimed film director and screenwriter of Vietnamese descent. Born in 1962 in Đà Nẵng, twelve-year-old Trần emigrated with his parents to Paris at the close of the American war. He has since directed three highly honored films meditating upon life in Việt Nam. His unforgettable 1993 debut, The Scent of Green Papaya, earned him an Oscar nomination and two top prizes at Cannes. His 1995 film Cyclo won the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival, the Gran Prix. And his 2000 film The Vertical Ray of the Sun masterfully concluded what some consider his “Việt Nam trilogy.”

Although at the forefront of Vietnamese diasporic cinema for the past two decades, his exposure to international influences has invaluably shaped his aesthetic. He once told an interviewer, “I adore American painting, German music, Japanese cinema and literature, Vietnamese contemporaries work and Italian cuisine.” Trần was already a fan of Murakami’s fiction when he sought permission to adapt Norwegian Wood. Trần has acknowledged, “What I like about the book is the fact that it’s about young people, about love, about lust, about mourning, and about sorrow … There is a sense of melancholy, which you can feel from beginning to end.”

Trần cast Kenichi Matsuyama as the protagonist and Rinko Kikuchi and Kiko Mizuhara as his two love interests. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood scored the film. Norwegian Wood had its recent premiere in September at the Venice International Film Festival, where it is currently in competition.

Titimary Tran of the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association had the good fortune of meeting Trần and seeing Norwegian Wood at the Toronto International Film Festival. She writes:

“Did you read the book?” Trần Anh Hùng asked me about the 1987 novel Norwegian Wood, an acclaimed international bestseller written by Haruki Murakami.  My response was tinged with embarrassment as I replied that I had not.

As a revered international art cinema director in the film festival circuit and the only Vietnamese recipient of the Camera d’Or for Best Director at Cannes Film Festival for The Scent of Green Papaya, I regret my answer and wish I would’ve lied about it instead.

Though I never read the Murakami novel, my cinematic experience exceeded the expectations I had as a spectator coming in to see TAH’s newest film adaptation.  With TAH’s auteur trademark of eros, subtlety, and sensual details, Norwegian Wood marks the return of a very talented and very unique filmmaker.

The film is expected to be shown at the Vietnamese International Film Festival in April 2011.


— post by Julie Thi Underhill, with contributions by Michelle Ton


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