From Tran Anh Hung, “Murakami and his wife loved the film. I’m not the right person who can repeat all the nice things they said about the movie. They used the word ‘noble’ to describe the movie. That’s all I can say.”
Norwegian Wood is a beloved book by Haruki Murakami. The fans have rallied behind this author in almost any endeavor, thus a film adapted from one of his novels proves to be near impossible in escaping built in scrutiny from the moment it’s conceived. Director of films such as Scent of Green Papayas and Cyclo, Tran Anh Hung rose to the task and proved that a film could be made and done well. The film isn’t action. It’s is a Haruki Murakami novel adapted into a film. It’s meant to be meditative, spiritual and also beautiful which Tran Anh Hung delicately captures. The film will open in January.
GR: Can you talk about your relationship with Haruki Murakami.
TAH: I sent him a letter when I learned that he gave his permission to a Japanese director to adapt one of his short stories. Since I wanted to adapt his books. In ’94 was the first time I read his book. So five years ago I sent him a letter asking him if he would be interested to meet in Tokyo and he said ‘yes, come over’ and that’s how we met for the first time. During this meeting he was very simple. He wanted to read the script and also to know about the budget of the movie.
GR: Oh wow.
TAH: Yea so we spent, the producer and I, a year of two to give him the project.
GR: You’ve mentioned that he is one of your influences. Is that something that you kind of grew up with, did you read his novels?
TAH: No, no, I only read one book. As usual when I’m interested in something I have to keep it very fresh meaning that I was not interested in finding out who is the writer and to read his older books. I didn’t want to read his older books because I only wanted to keep this book very fresh in my mind and wait for the moment where I can sign a contract with a producer to start working on the book. It’s only when I stopped working on the book that I start to learn how important is the book for the people that it’s a very successful book. I didn’t know this before.
GR: That’s great. Did you think about the adaptation or adapting the story or were you more concerned with just making a good movie?
TAH: Although I think that when you adapt a book you have to be faithful. It’s like drawing a portrait of someone. It must look like the person you know? So for me the idea of being faithful is very important. When I made this movie I wished that Murakami would like it, and would recognize somehow his work inside of the movie so it was very important. I think when you adapt a book you are not only adapting the story, but you also have to adapt the emotions that you felt when you read the book.
GR: I felt like the book should have more details, but at the same time I thought your film was a stronger than I imagined. Really powerful.
TAH: Thank you, thank you. When you go a form of art to another one you have to really speak the cinema language in the right way. It must be really rich so that the audience can feel something. You can feel emotion that can only come from this form of art and cannot come from another form of art. So it’s quite important. I really focus on this fact when I’m making a movie. To try to find the specific language of this art.
GR: So it’s kind of cinematic language, a story telling language?
TAH: What I mean is like something in the movie, at the end of the movie, after Naoko’s death you have the mourning of Watanabe by the sea and then you see him making love with a woman and the next scene you see him calling another woman and say ‘I love you’ to her. Somehow, these scenes are quite disturbing. It’s not really acceptable, but it’s fully acceptable in the book so it could be very dangerous in the movie. It looks not acceptable because what was hidden in this mechanism is that you have Watanabe who felt guilty about the fact that he couldn’t save Naoko. For him it’s very heavy, it’s very difficult to keep on living with these feelings. So the sex proposition coming from Reiko is somehow a way for him to redeem himself, by sleeping her, he saves her because he gave her back her sexuality so she can start a new life. Because when she asked him to make love to her she just wanted to check if her body can still work normally so that she can start a new life. It’s quite an interesting idea. So after saving her, his guilt towards Naoko is now lighter and it allows him to make up his life and go to another woman and say ‘I love you’ to her. So in the movie there is one scene after the love making scene with Reiko. She thanks him and we have this scene. That is not something that is fully useful for the story telling you know? It’s a scene where we see Watanabe standing on the tree and we see also Naoko standing next to the tree and Reiko sitting by the water. When you see this scene, immediately you have the feeling that they have met up with life. It’s something that I’m quite sure, it’s very, you cannot explain it, you just feel it. You feel that now they can return to life you know? Without this, after Reiko when she thanks Watanabe, if we jumped to the scene where he calls Midori and say ‘I love you’ I think it would not be acceptable. We need that kind of thing and this belongs solely… it’s specific to the cinematic language. You cannot write it in the book. That kind of feeling you can only experience it in movies. I’m after that kind of thing.
GR: You picked that woman, Kiko? I think she’s kind of newer in acting, right?
TAH: Yes, it’s quite risky because it was a challenge. I really feel grateful to the producers and the financees to accept that I choose Midori, I mean Kiko, because it’s a first time for her so it was risky. Since the audition was not perfect with her, I needed to bet on something that I feel in her that we can build a very good Midori in her.
GR: Also, are you able to make films in Vietnam again?
TAH: Oh yes, I hope that I will have another idea, a Vietnamese idea for a movie.
GR: I thought you once said you weren’t allowed to or you had problems making films in Vietnam many years ago.
TAH: It’s always a problem to make you know movies in Vietnam because there was a system of censorship that is quite hidden so it made me tired. For a while I didn’t have enough energy to go back there and fight to make a movie. So I need some time to forget a little bit to be able to go back and make another movie.