Tran's 'Norwegian Wood' clears Chinese censors

AP News
Posted: Jun 14, 2011 5:42 AM
Tran's 'Norwegian Wood' clears Chinese censors

The French-Vietnamese director who adapted Haruki Murakami's best-selling novel "Norwegian Wood" says his film has cleared censors in China, paving the way for the classic coming-of-age story to be screened in one of the world's fastest-growing movie markets.

Tran Anh Hung told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Chinese censors _ known for being prudish _ asked for few changes. The often dark tale of "Norwegian Wood" features sex scenes and two suicides _ details that could have been problematic for Chinese regulators who often prefer more upbeat, what they describe as "ethically inspiring" fare.

The Paris-based director said the changes were "small things, something really unimportant." He spoke in an interview on the sidelines of the Shanghai International Film Festival.

The film will be screening at the Shanghai festival _ where Tran is serving as a jury member _ on Sunday. Publicist Fish Zhou at distributor Shanghai Huayu Film Co. said a general release date hasn't been set.

In China, where Murakami has a sizable fan base, Tran can expect to add significantly to what is already his most profitable movie to date, with a total global take of $17 million since its release in September last year, according to figures from the box office tracking website Box Office Mojo.

Tran successfully applied his sensual touch from award-winning films like "The Scent of the Green Papaya" and "Cyclo" to the Murakami hit novel, which follows Japanese university student Watanabe's romances with three women _ classmate Midori, his late friend's mentally ill girlfriend Naoko and her fellow patient and big sister figure Reiko.

Tran described his mood-building approach on the set. "You have to be very awake, waiting for the moment when you can do something during the shooting that was not written in the script."

He gave an example: After Naoko commits suicide, Reiko leaves the mental hospital to visit Watanabe and asks him to have sex with her. Reluctantly, Watanabe agrees. The move is a key turning point, according to Tran, because it liberates all three characters _ Reiko rediscovers her sexuality after extended hospitalization and Watanabe eases his guilt over Naoko's death so he can carry on a relationship with Midori.

After portraying the sex scene, Tran cuts to an imaginary scene where Naoko, Reiko and Watanabe idling near a tree by the water, conveying a sense of serenity and closure.

"This is something that is specifically cinematographic," he said, the goal being to "to bring things to the audience that they can only experience in movies, not another kind of art."

The film features a minimalist, melancholy soundtrack from Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood, who Tran said could "bring beauty from the darkness."

For his project, the Paris-based director said he is considering possible productions in Vietnam, France and Japan _ although he is less inclined to make another film about Vietnam because he is encouraged by the quality of new film talent there. Tran's first three movies _ "Scent of the Green Papaya," "Cyclo" and "The Vertical Ray of the Sun" _ were all set in his ancestral home.

"I feel less necessity to make Vietnamese movies today because I know the young generation _ they will do it for me," he said.