When Tran Anh Hung enters the room for an interview with The Japan Times, a hush falls among the people gathered there. The staff speak in low, gentle tones and their gestures seem restrained.

"It's probably because I'm very sensitive to the sound of spoken words and peoples' voices," says the Vietnam-born director in English. "So now, when I come to Japan for work, everyone tends to speak softly. I'm in awe of their graciousness."

Tran, 54, is best-known in this country for his 2010 adaptation of Haruki Murakami's best-selling novel "Norwegian Wood," a two-volume work originally published in 1987. Before his film there had been whispers of a different kind. For decades, rumors floated around that some veteran Japanese filmmaker could make his or her mark on the international film stage by tackling an adaptation and taking it to the Cannes Film Festival. Others whispered that a successful film version of the story was just not possible.