Murakami Took Four Years to Approve 'Norwegian Wood'

Director Tran First Read Novel in 1994

TOKYO -- The director of a soon-to-be-released movie based on Haruki Murakami's book Norwegian Wood said it took him four years to win the approval of the Japanese author to adapt the popular novel.

Recalling his first meeting with Murakami in 2004, Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung said on Friday that the writer was "quiet, very serious, and very careful." Murakami finally gave the green light for the adaptation in 2008.

"Murakami protected his work. He gave us two conditions. One is that he would like to see the script. The other one is he would like to know what would be the budget for the movie," Tran said.

The 47-year-old director said he first read Norwegian Wood in 1994. Since then, he had always wanted to make it into a movie.

"I've read some other love stories, but this one is very special. The book reveals some shadows that are hidden inside of you," Tran said. "It is about love and lost love. It's about mourning. It's about feelings of making up with life after the death of your loved ones."

Set in Tokyo in the late 1960s, Norwegian Wood is about Watanabe, a university student who is torn between two women, Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend who committed suicide, and Midori, a self-confident and independent woman.

Naoko is tormented by the death of her boyfriend, and ends up in a secluded mental institution before hanging herself. The character is played by Rinko Kikuchi, who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in Babel.

Model Kiko Mizuhara makes her film debut as Midori. Japanese actor Kenichi Matsuyama plays Watanabe.

"In fact, in every woman, there are two things — Naoko and Midori," Tran said. "Naoko has dark sides. She is poisonous, and she is dangerous. She brings you to dark sides of life, like death."

Tran called Midori "a wife." ''She is tender. She is someone who is able to go through all the changes of love and life. But it is not the case for Naoko."

The book, released in Japan in 1987, has sold more than 10 million copies at home and 2.6 million abroad in 36 languages. Its title comes from The Beatles tune, which is the favorite song of one of the novel's characters.

Norwegian Wood was nominated for the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award in September. The movie will open in Japan in December and is scheduled for release in 36 countries.

Tran won the Golden Lion award in 1995 for Cyclo, a film that tells the hard-life story of a young rickshaw driver. His first movie, The Scent of Green Papaya, took home the Camera d'Or from Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award. Norwegian Wood is his fifth film.

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