Jonny Greenwood Jonny GreenwoodNorwegian Wood. Original Soundtrack
People couldn’t seem to agree on the Venice International Film Festival premiere of the film adaptation of “Tokyo Blues”, the bestselling novel that confirmed Haruki Murakami as one of the few Japanese novelists to have successfully impacted on the complicated Western publishing market, and the critics and the public left the hall with different opinions. The lucky ones who were able to see the film at its Asian premiere didn’t manage to reach an agreement either. Some describe the latest film from Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (“The Scent of Green Papaya”, “Cyclo”) as majestic visual poetry; others, on the contrary, accuse him of lacking empathy, despite the enormous emotional charge born by the conformist Toru Watanabe and his two –opposing– post-pubescent pillars, Naoko and Midori. Japanese audiences can already draw their own conclusions these days regarding “Norwegian Wood”, although it will still take awhile for it to open in Europe and the United States. We’ll have to wait until some distributor gets in touch with our favourite arthouse cinema.
Meanwhile, what we can sample is the soundtrack that guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, member of Radiohead, has put out for the occasion (the third that he has written, after “Bodysong” for the Simon Pummell film, and the Hollywood effort that Paul Thomas Anderson offered him with “There Will Be Blood” –a score that you will remember won him an Oscar nomination for the best composer of 2008). Composed during his downtime in hotels during the last Radiohead tour, Greenwood already scribbled down an advance of these orchestral songs in “Doghouse”, his latest collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra: it is the piece that kicks off the opening credits with a hypnotic lament, and which is followed by “Want to Organize Myself a Little More”, another score in which Greenwood insists on the strict, learned writing that he polished for the Thomas Anderson film.
If there is something surprising about this soundtrack, it is that not even The Beatles –Watanabe’s excuse for recalling his youth in a perpetual flashback, just after listening to the song that originally gave its name to the novel—or even the constant allusions to jazz and 60’s pop that fill Murakami’s work have ended up being carried over to the big screen. Instead, Greenwood has chosen three songs from one of the bands that best combined experimentation and arty intellectualism in the early days of krautrock: Can. The devastating tension of “Mary, Mary, so Contrary” (which already appeared on the Germans’ first EP), “Bring Me Coffee or Tea” (the intuitive Japanese-inspired psychedelics that closed “Tago Mago”, one of the albums that has most heavily influenced the sound of Thom Yorke and his boys), and “Don’t Turn the Light on, Leave Me Alone” (which was the debut of Damo Suzuki as a vocalist, in the kinetic compilation “Soundtracks”) are the only concessions that we find in this criticisable decision.
Aside from electronic flirtations and the percussions that he used in “Bodysong”, if one thing is clear after listening to this soundtrack, it is that Greenwood is comfortable in his role as a commissioned orchestra director–something that has intensified since the time of “OK Computer”. It is impractical to put images to the crying of these violins—for example, to that beehive garnished with a trumpeting funeral march in “Naoko Is Dead”–without having seen the film yet. It does sound very promising, though. We think that the bucolic forest that one senses in “Grasslands, Winds, Woods” or the hypnotic folk picking of “Don’t Read what Hasn’t Been Baptized by Time”, in which Greenwood resorts to the Spanish guitar in the same way that he does in “Be Good and Stay Quiet” (like a slowed-down harp) represent a perfect accompaniment for a story marked by the made-in-Japan tragedy of adolescent suicide and the feat of maturing in an atmosphere that is hostile to emotional imbalances.
Sergio del AmoJonny Greenwood - I'll Come See You Again