Rinko Kikuchi might be best known for her role as the mute school girl in Babel directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Nominated for an Oscar, she’s gone on to numerous projects including Brothers Bloom and is in 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves and yet another project currently filming with Guillermo Del Toro. Her role in Tran Anh Hung directed adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is far from a tender character as she’s cast as Naoko, a person who’s mentally ill, plagued by her own demons. Kikuchi currently lives in New York City and we caught up with her during her Norwegian Wood promotions. Her English is coming along as well as her acting roles.
GR: Can you tell me about your experience of reading Norwegian Wood?
RK: When I read the book, I was the same age as Naoko, so I fell in love with Naoko’s character and ten years later, I got this role. Now I understand her better than when I first read the book.
GR: When I read some books when I was younger and then I re-read it again at a different time it felt a lot different. How did you see that? Did it change a little bit when you read it one more time before the movie?
RK: Yea, when I made this film, I learned everything has an end. Naoko and Kizuki wanted to keep their beautiful memory so they committed suicide. They were scared to open the other door, you know? That’s why I think this book is really beautiful, poetic and fragile. So I got a new experience of the book after making the film.
GR: I know that the character is kind of a difficult one and I was reading how you had to get into that character. How do you do that?
RK: I read the book over and over again, and I asked Naoko questions and tried to get the right answers from her. Right at the beginning of the shoot, the answers and questions melded, so finally I could do that the role, but every specific hint from the novel mattered.
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.