I just watched this movie today and was rather stunned by it. A haunting, moody chamber piece that feels like the quiet peace after rain has come and gone. Ryuichi Sakimoto's delicate piano plays throughout. A very gentle yet strangely powerful, unique film.
New York Times Review of Tony Takitani
Written by Manohla Dargis
A delicate wisp of a film with a surprisingly sharp sting, "Tony Takitani" tells the story of a lonely man who at age 37 awakens to life for the first time during a brief idyll. The film was directed by Jun Ichikawa, who has adapted this Haruki Murakami short story of the same title with grace and fidelity. Short on incident and narrated in the third person with serene detachment, the original story was published in The New Yorker three years ago and, at least on first reading, would seem impossible to transpose to the screen.
Like the short story, the film begins before the birth of its title character. Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tony (Issey Ogata) is born to a jazz musician and a woman whose health isn't strong enough to withstand the birth of her only child. Between the death of his mother and his father's benign neglect, Tony grows up in profound isolation, a state he will not notice until he falls in love. In the film, the woman, Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), floats into his life as if from a dream, and it's in a dream state that Tony comes alive. The couple date, marry and together build an almost perfect life that is marred, ever so slightly, by the wife's passion for clothes.
"In Milan and Paris she went from boutique to boutique, morning to night, like one possessed," Mr. Murakami writes. "Instead of the Duomo or the Louvre, they saw Valentino, Missoni, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Ferragamo, Armani, Cerruti, Gianfranco Ferré." Mr. Ichikawa translates this orgy of consumerism into an elegant montage of her shopping, the camera often fixed on her feet in their spiky heels, whimsical flats and a questionable pair of ankle boots. The year is 1985, and Japan is in the midst of the economic boom that will turn it into an economic superpower. Tony earns plenty of money, but Eiko's obsession gnaws at him. One day, he asks if she could spend a little less, a request that leads to disaster.
It would be unfair to burden "Tony Takitani," in either its written or its filmed form, with too much political weight. That said, Mr. Murakami has Tony's parents marry in 1947, the same year that Japan adopted its constitution (and pacifism) and Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur gutted the country's left wing by squelching a planned general strike. The image of Tony that emerges in adulthood, hunched over his worktable as he painstakingly draws machines, a job for which we are told he is well suited, dovetails with the stereotype of postwar Japan as a country of money and conformity, not of art and individuality. It's a stereotype that the story and the film at once acknowledge and obliterate.
"Loneliness is like a prison," says the film's narrator, with a voice like a caress. Early in the film, Tony's father lies in a Chinese jail cell; decades later, his son curls into the same position in an empty room in his house. Tony's cell may be self-constructed - he reaches out only to Eiko - but the prison in which that cell sits was not built by him alone. Mr. Ichikawa's insistence on Tony's historical context may even be behind the steady left-to-right camera movements the director uses throughout the film: before the occupation, Japanese was written right to left (and up and down), which is the same direction that traditional horizontal scrolls are viewed. It's no wonder Tony often seems headed in the wrong direction.
It's worth noting that Mr. Murakami's story echoes, if only in broad strokes, Gogol's "Overcoat," another short story about another lonely man, Akakii Akakievich, who falls under the spell of a love that tragically ushers him into the world. Gogol's hero dies alone; Mr. Murakami's simply ends up alone. Mr. Ichikawa, however, ends his film with the image of Tony Takitani staring at a photograph and thinking about someone other than himself. How you read this image will depend on whether you like your glass half full or half empty. Mr. Murakami, at least by evidence of this one story, seems to like his glass more empty than not. Mr. Ichikawa appears more hopeful and more than willing to pass the glass around.
Opens in Manhattan today.
Directed by Jun Ichikawa; written (in Japanese, with English subtitles) by Mr. Ichikawa, based on the story by Haruki Murakami; director of photography, Hirokawa Taishi; edited by Sanjyo Tomoo; music by Ryuichi Sakamoto; production designer, Ichida Yoshikazu; produced by Ishida Motoki, Yonezawa Keiko, Koshikawa Michio and Higuchi Shinsuke; released by Strand Releasing. At the Angelika Film Center, Mercer and Houston Streets, Greenwich Village. Running time: 75 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Issey Ogata (Tony Takitani/Takitani Shozaburo), Rie Miyazawa (Konuma Eiko/Hisako), Shinohara Takahumi (Young Tony Takitani) and Nishijima Hidetoshi (Narrator).