NorwegianWoodphoto.jpg
Soda Pictures
Like this, but without clothes.

The Dinner: Tempura at Kiku Tempura House (5018 University Way NE)

The Movie: Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori)

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Kiku Tempura House and Norwegian Wood Get You Out of the Cold

NorwegianWoodphoto.jpg
Soda Pictures
Like this, but without clothes.

The Dinner: Tempura at Kiku Tempura House (5018 University Way NE)

The Movie: Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori) at SIFF Uptown (511 Queen Anne Avenue North)

The Screenplate: Tumultuous, passionate, fragile--all three describe Tokyo's youth culture circa 1969, the backdrop of director Anh Hung Tran's Norwegian Wood, based on Haruki Murakami's international best seller of the same name. Making its U.S. debut earlier this year at the Seattle International Film Festival, Norwegian Wood's return to SIFF Uptown revisits the delicate sexual confusion of young adulthood, set to a soundtrack of the band Can and original work by Radiohead's Jonny Geenwood. It thus seemed fitting to seek a second dose of Japanese culture and college lifestyle, so I ended up at Kiku Tempura House for dinner.

Childhood friends Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, of Babel) and Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) are reunited in Tokyo just in time for Naoko's 20th birthday. "I think people should just go back and forth between 18 and 19," Naoko says to Watanabe, before bursting into tears. Her words resonate, drawing memories of their shared friend Kizuki's suicide.

In a confused effort to comfort Naoko, Watanabe takes her virginity, and thus loses her as she retreats into the isolation of a mountain refuge. Through written correspondence and occasional visits, Watanabe watches Naoko slip further and further into a depression mirrored by the empty landscape she inhabits.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Watanabe meets bewitching Midori, the obvious reverse of Naoko. She's vivacious, confident, coquettish, and moves healthily through her own tragedies. With Naoko and Midori representing his past and future, Watanabe alternates between Tokyo and the countryside, unable to settle. All the while, he remains sufficiently angst-y and miserable.

 

Were Watanabe a University of Washington student, Kiku Tempura House would be where he'd go to brood. A tiny, unobtrusive restaurant with a counter and half dozen tables, Kiku boasts low prices and menu items displayed as illuminated photographs. Nearly all of the patrons ate alone; perhaps the more social customers ordered takeout?

Everyone was young and quiet--were it in 1960's Tokyo, it would be a sanctuary from the rallies on the streets. In fact, amongst the multitudes of posters tacked to the walls, there were numerous Occupy Seattle fliers, including one pledging Kiku's support.

Orders are placed at the front of the restaurant, where a cashier relays them through a window to the kitchen in back. I ordered the namesake dish--Tempura, #12, starred as "popular"--and there were no surprises with the battered vegetable plate I received (Even with me having to explain I am a vegetarian, and to hold the shrimp).

There were no surprises in Norwegian Wood, either, but again, that doesn't count against it. The film's emphasis isn't so much the plot as it is the turbulence of youth, told with a bite of nostalgia and reflection (although it is narrated in present-tense, unlike its novel counterpart). This is not to say it isn't a beautiful story: The violent confession of Naoko's failed sexual relationship with Kizuki is the most potent scene in the entire film, and haunts long after it closes. Another striking scene is that of the eponymous Beatles song, played only once, brokenly, in the film's run time of a little over two hours. However, if you feel like that particular turn of events is on its way, that's because it most likely is; in Norwegian Wood, nothing's unexpected.

 

Kiku's tempura came just as anticipated as well, and was a welcome dish for someone hurrying in from the cold. Served hot, it's comfort food in a place full of lonely people, away from home. Getting vigorous with my dipping, I nearly ran out of sauce, however; masterfully, the little plastic cup was empty precisely with my last bite. My $7 dish was large enough for the appetite of one escaping from studying, and it wasn't a fluke, either--a neighbor's bowl of chicken noodle soup was likewise large enough to get lost in.

 

You'll get lost in Norwegian Wood, too. Erotic, dark, cast in shades of winter, Norwegian Wood jars with its abrupt editing and captivates with its organic cinematography. Pay special attention to nature, which explodes with unexpressed emotions--the rain as tears, the waves as violent despair. Despite its emphasis on relationships, Norwegian Wood cannot be mistaken for a love story; instead, it a story of grief, of loss, of sexual exploration and inevitable doom. If you overlooked it last spring, it might be time you gave it a second chance.

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