Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tokyo Blues or Norwegian Wood

The Japanese film (albeit directed by Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran) "Norwegian Wood" (also known as "Tokyo Blues") has just started in Spain after a premiere in Japan in December.

The film is of course based around the famous novel by Haruki Murakami of the same name and features the famous Beatles song, the first of theirs to feature sitar and originally from the "Rubber Soul" album of 1965.

The book I read many years ago and somehow I found it a bit flat. Perhaps it is because so much had been made of it that I expected more? But my principle memory of it was of a story told through letters which meant as certain distance between the action and the emotions of the characters. The film too is kind of emotionally flat in the sense that it follows single mindedly on its gentle path of sorrow, but it is somehow more effective. One reason is the linking of the characters emotions to the seasons and to nature, particularly the volatile Naoko. But the additional visual nature of film perhaps draws out the more subtle political themes as well as the nuances of the characters a little better than I remember of the book.

But as well as the Beatles fabled song, often attributed to Lennon’s extra-marital affairs, but not to his relationship with Yoko Ono as many often claim (they didn’t meet until 1966).

The song itself is said to be inspired by Bob Dylan’s track “4th Time around” which at times paraphrases the same vocal melody as well as sharing a closemness in guitar sound. Many considered it an attack on Lennon by Dylan who himself apparently took it well, perhaps thereby acknowledging the debt of influence.

Another interesting aspect of the film, however, is the use of many Can tracks throughout. Ironically, several of these have already appeared in other films, notably “She brings the rain” from the “Soundtracks” album. Also featured is “Mary, Mary so contrary” from “Monster Movie” and “Bring me coffee or tea” from “Tago Mago”.

The remaining music of the film is also organised and written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

Speaking of Murakami, my cat is named after Kafka the writer, but also from Murakami's novel “Kafka on the shore” which I confess to not having read. By coincidence, Kompakt announced this week a set of three limited edition singles by Wolfgang Voigt called “Kafkatrax”. Click here to listen .

There is also another writer Ryu Murakami who has also been writing books for years, albeit somewhat less famously than Haruki. One of his earliest successes was the novel “Almost Transparent Blue” which won the prestigious Agutakawa Prize for literature in 1977. The story is a group of young Japanese people living in a town near an American airforce base and living a sordid life of sex, drugs and rock n roll. I have never seen the film version of which this is an excerpt, but it likes rather strange indeed, somewhat fitting with the original novel.

Ryu Murakami also directed the 1992 film “Tokyo decadence” which was (and perhaps still is) banned in several countries and from the brief excerpts seems almost a little like Pedro Almodovar. The plot apparently revolves around several sex scenes that link the unrequited love of one character with another. The musical score was performed by none other than Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Finally, of no relation to these writers, but there is a young techno/house artist called Ryo Murakami who has released several tracks on labels like Curle, Morris Audio, Poker Flat and more.

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