Norwegian Wood is a moving tale of loss and sexuality set in Tokyo in the late 1960s and adapted from Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s bestselling 1987 novel. In this haunting coming-of-age story, Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) looks back on his days as a freshman university student living in Tokyo during a turbulent political time. Through his reminiscences about a series of life-altering events that include first love, sexual awakening, suicide and terminal illness, we see him develop relationships with two very different women, the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), and the outgoing, vivacious Midori (Kiko Mizuhara).
We recently did an exclusive phone interview with the Academy Award nominated Kikuchi to talk about Norwegian Wood and what it was like to be a part of Vietnamese-born director Anh Hung Tran’s visually stunning film. She told us what attracted her to the project, how Tran had reservations about casting her in the role initially, what she felt were the most challenging aspects of her character, and why she thinks an audience will enjoy the poetic story and characters. She also talked about her upcoming roles in Carl Erik Rinsch’s epic period Samurai film, 47 Ronin, and Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi thriller, Pacific Rim. Hit the jump for more.
How did you hear about the role and what made you want to go after it?
RINKO KIKUCHI: When I read this book, I was the same age as Naoko. I just fell in love with her, but I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did about her at the time. Then, ten years later, I read in the news that Norwegian Wood was going to be made into a film. I really wanted to know about her and if I could play this role, [because] I understand more [now] than [when] I [first] read this book.
What was the most challenging aspect of playing Naoko?
KIKUCHI: She’s completely in despair, and then, she doesn’t have any hope for the future. She carries death inside of her. So that’s really the most difficult aspect.
Was there a scene that was more difficult than the others?
KIKUCHI: Do you remember the long dolly shot near the end of the film? She talks to Watanabe about Kizuki and how much she was in love [with him]. That was a really difficult scene. It’s the scene where we’re pacing back and forth through a huge field and it’s raining. It’s all one take – a five-minute-long take. We did the magic hour shot. We had only 30 minutes for that shot, and then also, it was the longest dolly shot in Japan ever.
How was it playing opposite Kenichi Matsuyama?
KIKUCHI: We were on the same page, but he really was a novice [when it came to] doing the sex scene. He’d never done that type of scene before when we shot it, so we talked about the scene. It was like choreographing a dance between ourselves as actors. It was really easy to work with him.
What was the casting process like and how was it working with Anh Hung Tran?
KIKUCHI: Before we worked together, he thought I was not right for the part of Naoko, that I was not the right person to play her. That’s why I couldn’t get the audition at the time. Then, I called him and the producer, over and over. I just wanted to do an audition for the role. Finally, I did, and then I got this role. But, before I did the audition, he thought I was not the right person. Finally, he was really happy to work with me.
Did Haruki Murakami’s novel leave an impression on you when you first read it?
KIKUCHI: Yes. When I read this novel, it was my first Murakami novel. Then, I became a big fan of his novels, and until now, I continue to read his novels. Norwegian Wood is one of my favorite novels.
Were you concerned about living up to the expectations of fans of the novel?
KIKUCHI: Yes, but sometimes we should take a risk. I live in New York. I don’t speak English very well and now I’m doing this interview. It’s really taking a risk because I don’t know if you might misunderstand me because of my English. But I always believe I should take a risk. That’s why artists need to do something like this.
What do you think an audience will enjoy most about the story and the characters?
KIKUCHI: When I watched this film, I just thought about how everything has an end, but also a human being can stop to find hope and life. The film is really about despair, but it’s also about having hope. It has hope. Also, the film has life and death, black and white, to compare things, but it does it in a really poetic way. I think an audience will like this film.
You have several upcoming projects. Can you tell us about your character in 47 Ronin and what she’s like?
KIKUCHI: In 47 Ronin, my character is a witch, but she’s a really bad witch. She is also a completely original character. This was my first time portraying a magical character.
Did you have a lot of scenes with Keanu Reeves?
KIKUCHI: Actually, I didn’t have any action with him because I’m the enemy.
Have you seen any of the footage of the movie yet?
KIKUCHI: Not yet.
Who do you play in Pacific Rim? Can you tell us what kind of role it is?
KIKUCHI: I play a pilot of a robot. This is my first big action hero role. She’s really tough.
Do you get to do a lot of action scenes?
KIKUCHI: Yes! I’m so happy [to do that].
What is the coolest part about making Pacific Rim?
KIKUCHI: Everything. My character is really tough. I’ve never played this type of character before. It was a completely new experience for me. I can’t stop thinking about this character, but in a really good way. It’s good for me to have fun. Making this film feels like fun and not work.
What’s it like working with Guillermo del Toro?
KIKUCHI: I’m so happy to work with him. Every moment, he was so happy with the cast and with this shoot. He makes me happy each day when we finish shooting. If he’s happy, then that means I’m happy. I’m completely enthusiastic about this character and working for him and making this movie.
What is it like filming in Toronto? How much more shooting is left?
KIKUCHI: It’s still going on. We’re just in the middle of the shoot. Right now, I’m shooting in Toronto until April with Guillermo.
I understand today is your birthday. Happy Birthday!
KIKUCHI: Thank you!
Do you have any special plans to celebrate?
KIKUCHI: Yes, I’m going to have a special dinner!
Norwegian Wood opened in New York on January 6th and will open in Los Angeles on January 27th.