Norwegian Wood (Blu-ray) (2010)

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Released 19-Apr-2012

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romance None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 133:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Anh Hung Tran
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Rinko Kikuchi
Ken'ichi Matsuyama
Kiko Mizuhara
Eriko Hatsune
Tetsuji Tamayama
Reika Kirishima
Kengo Kôra
Shigesato Itoi
Tokio Emoto
Takao Handa
Haruomi Hosono
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Jonny Greenwood


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080i
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

I once had a girl

or should I say

she once had me

Norwegian Wood by The Beatles

     Any adaptation of a popular novel is likely to be attended with some controversy. You only have to look at the fan reaction to Tom Cruise being cast as Jack Reacher to see that fans of a book series are fiercely protective of their characters, the ones that exist in their head brought to life by the skill of the writer. As adaptations go there are few endeavours more fraught with difficulty than to recreate works of modern literature. More often than not instead of the question of whether the chosen cast are right for the roles it is a question of whether the novel, with all its intellectual implications, has translated onto the big screen. Books of this type are often near and dear to some of the toughest critics around. All of this is perhaps why the adaptation of Norwegian Wood from the 80s novel by Haruki Murakami has divided critics and met with a somewhat middling reaction.

     First, a concession. I have not read the Murakami novel. Friends who have trotted out the usual dictum that it is "unfilmable". Nevertheless there have been several great adaptations of supposedly unfilmable novels, including the recent Ian McEwan adaptation Atonement. Not having read the novel I'm surprised by the fuss. This is a sensual and intimate movie directed with great sensitivity by Tran Anh Hung. It is not entirely effective however those who enjoy beautiful and contemplative cinema will find much to enjoy in this film.

     The book and film are set in the 1960s when Japan, like much of the World, was embroiled in political turmoil with student riots breaking out across the land. Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) and his best friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) live an idyllic existence in a friendship triangle. At the apex is Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi best known for her performance as the deaf teen in Babel) who has known Kizuki almost all her life. They are soul mates. Suddenly and without warning Kizuki commits suicide on his 17th birthday.

     Three years later Watanabe and Naoko form a bond in the shadow of their deceased friend. On the night of her 20th birthday Watanabe and Naoko sleep together and he is surprised to find that she is still a virgin. Naoko disappears, leaving Watanabe shattered, and checks herself into a sanatorium in the country. Watanabe visits her as often as he can and tries to make meaning of their relationship.

     Back at university he is a conflicted man. He is in love with Naoko, who was unable to return his affections in her current state. He meets Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) a vivacious and bold young woman who wants a man to love her utterly, to be completely in her power. Watanabe hardly fits that bill. Watanabe tries to escape his feelings for Naoko by hanging out with university ladies’ man Nagasawa (Tetsuji Tamayama) who is cheating on his beautiful and rich girlfriend Hatsumi (Eriko Hatsumi) who feels some kind of indescribable bond with Watanabe. With three women in his life Watanabe must tread carefully to secure his own happiness.

     This is a slow moving, elegiac film which will confound those who like their romantic dramas with a lot of muscle. This is almost an anti-romantic film, so surely is Watanabe being drawn into a whirlpool of despair. The performances are good throughout and the direction is by Vietnamese artist Tran Anh Hung, who has gathered acclaim for his films Cyclo, Vertical Rays of the Sun and The Scent of Green Papaya.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The film is in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In sound and vision terms I am conflicted as to what to say about Norwegian Wood.

     First, some bad news. This is a 1080i transfer. It is not uncommon for native 1080i programs to be issued in that format. Therefore lots of concert films, nature documentaries and even some television (such as the recent Underbelly: Razor) were released in 1080i format. They have an excuse. There is really no excuse to release a feature film in this reduced format.

     This begs the question of where the transfer originated. A few Blu-ray releases in 1080i come from cable television sources. Rather than pay the extra money required for a fully-fledged 1080p transfer and bearing in mind the limited audience expected, distributors sometimes use these transfers and hope that the public won’t care or notice. That may be a great disappointment if, worldwide, there is a 1080i transfer. However, where the rest of the world has a 1080p transfer then it is a slap in the face for local purchasers.

     That caveat aside, which may be a deal-breaker for some, there are a number of positives in this transfer. The 1080p transfer available overseas must be truly spectacular for even in the reduced specification this is a very good-looking film. Instead of an excellent looking Blu-ray in 1080p we have the equivalent of a brilliant looking DVD.

     It has an emulated grain structure (the film was shot digitally on the Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera) which gives it the feel of the 1960s era. However the colours are strong and clear and the transfer is very sharp at times. The flesh tones are well rendered. There are no compression problems although the blacks could be inkier.

     Coupled with the 1080i transfer is the fact that this is a single layer BD 25. In other Regions the film has been allowed to spread its wings over a dual layer BD 50. Using the ever reliable DVD Beaver as a guide, the file size of the Region A release is far larger than our release. That is, of course, consistent with having reduced specifications.

     There are subtitles in English. They have been burned into the print, not allowing native Japanese speakers to watch the film uncluttered in their own language.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     As slaps in the face go, presenting a film on Blu-ray with a reduced specification transfer is quite considerable. When it comes to the sound transfer prepare for a punch!

     In Region A and also Region B UK the film comes with a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. In our region the release contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which runs at an unbelievably measly 192 Kb/s. Is there a Blu-ray available in this market which has a lower specification sound transfer? It is an insult and an embarrassment that we could be so considerably short-changed in our Region. It is not as if this is a super budget release. Consumers have to pay full price for this film.

     Having said that the sound is actually quite good. One wonders what it would have been like with a fully rendered track. Though it is a 2.0 track it is surround encoded and is certainly appealing as though the speakers are alive, particularly with the wealth of ambient sound in this film particularly the elements, rain and wind. Otherwise the dialogue is clear though perhaps being a Japanese language film (as with any foreign language film) it is easier to ignore limitations in the source material.

     It is a fair bet that many of the people who buy this film would do so because of the involvement of Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead in creating the score. Those looking for a point of reference need go no further than his score for There Will Be Blood with clusters of dissonant chords creating an uneasy mood throughout. It is a powerful and effective score.

     Interestingly, some of the message boards have lit up with criticism of the score, particularly its use in the love scenes, as undercutting the romance of the piece. That would seem to be exactly what Greenwood had in mind. Perhaps another point of reference for the score is the modern composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Movie lovers might perhaps only know the works of Ligeti through 2001: A Space Odyssey. Finally, Greenwood recently collaborated with another influence, the composer Krystof Penderecki in a concert featuring works from both men.

     Finally, music wise, the title says it all. The book and the film are named after the Beatles song Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). This song appears twice in the movie once in an acoustic version by a character and the second in the credits. Beatles fans shouldn't buy this movie to hear the song!

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras got lost in the woods.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     It goes without saying that our Region has the least desirable version of the film. In other Regions (A and B UK) there are a number of extras included. Although these don't appear to be overwhelming they are certainly better than nothing. These are four:

Summary

     Norwegian Wood, despite the annoying deficiencies in the specifications, is an engaging and at times moving film. Those who are wedded to the book may well find that it does not bear comparison and those who like their love stories uplifting and heart-warming should steer clear. This is a slow-moving film with characters who are at times difficult to like and sometimes even more difficult to understand why they act the way they do.

     The deficiencies in the transfer specification have been told well enough above and it is disappointing that we should get the worst copy Blu-ray available. In fact, it should be treated as a fairly decent DVD. What is perhaps most galling of all is that the Blu-ray case makes no mention of the specifications so consumers can make a choice as to whether to buy or avoid.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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