Haruki Murakami is one of Japan's celebrated modern novelist. His works usually consists of stories of life, longing, love and loss--blended in surrealism with Murakami's gifted way of phrases. His stories are often magical but maintains a realist feel and his descriptions are full of mood. Adapting his short story "TONY TAKITANI" would be no simple task, but director Jun Ichikawa (Osaka Story, Tokyo Lullaby) succeeds in bringing this story to life--mostly because he almost follows the novel word for word.
Tony Takitani (Issei Ogata) is an artist. His father Shozaburo Takitani (also played by Ogata) is a free-spirited, traveling musician and Tony's mother had died 3 days after his birth and his childhood was mostly spent alone with only the housekeeper as company. Tony (so named because his father thought it would be cool for him to have a Western name) becomes an isolated child but he becomes able to fend for himself that he dismisses the housekeeper even before he became a teenager. Tony is left completely alone for long periods of time.
Now, after excelling in art school, Tony becomes a successful artist/illustrator of machines. His career is his life and marriage is the furthest thing from his mind. That is until he meets a beautiful woman named Eiko Konuma (gorgeous Rie Miyazawa) and Tony instantly falls in love.
Tony thought: "She wore her clothes with such naturalness and grace that she could have been a bird that had enveloped itself on a special wind as it prepared to fly off to another world." (Deep isn't it?)
They prove to be a good match (even though Tony is 15 years older) and they marry. Tony finally experiences happiness and fears as to what may happen if she disappears. Their union is perfect, but there is just one bump--Eiko is a compulsive shopper who spends so much money in designer clothes. Tony asks her to cut down on her shopping and being the obedient wife, she obeys although she becomes burdened with the thought of not shopping. Her penchant for high couture fashion leads to darkly satiric consequences.
The film is amazingly shot. The direction by Ichikawa is so full of emotional melancholy that the film itself looks very beautiful. The proceedings itself may have a "sleepy" feel but it is never boring. The original novel is a short story so Ichikawa serves up a very short film at 75 minutes. Ozu had greatly influenced Ichikawa and therefore he is a very minimalist filmmaker; his camera shots are kept restrained and simple, keeps thing in perspective, fixed but every so often the camera pans from left to right. The style is almost a cinematic painting by itself and is very precise. I rather thought that the camera pans symbolizes the passage of time and the occasionally close ups and floor shots symbolizes changes and the walking parts the journey.
The characters in the film barely speak. They speak to one another, but most of the story is told by a narrator, who at times has his sentences completed when one of the characters chime in. Sometimes the characters even refer to themselves in the third person while they narrate, which gives the film a mythical feel or perhaps a fable. The voice over is pretty much word for word passages from the original novella. The narrator itself conveys alienation and is a very effective style to emulate its moody feel. The film is full of emotion, Tony didn't exactly limit his human contacts and killed his emotions (emotionless drawings as a metaphor) but he just didn't know what he was missing in his life, his loneliness was his state of being. Tony didn't even realize that he was lonely until he met Eiko (rightfully played by Rie Miyazawa, Twilight Samurai) who embodied beauty and enabled him to see the vibrant color in this life.
Eiko is a complex woman. She is beautiful, young and smart, Eiko also proves to be a dutiful and worthy wife. Her one flaw is her compulsive shopping and I think this mirrors the emptiness that needs to be filled, she finds clothes to be her one "filler" that seems endless. Her clothes represent her presence in this world or may be interpreted as a metaphor for the need for material things in order to feel alive--or maybe to have a three-dimensional existence. The plaintive music by award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto complements the film's mood and character, which results in a seductively, contemplative atmosphere.
I cannot say anymore without spoiling the film. Suffice it to say, "Tony Takitani" is a haunting story of longing, loneliness and happiness, love and loss. Director Ichikawa proves to be the right filmmaker to bring this story to life. He brilliantly sticks to the source material although he somewhat steers a little from Murakami's original climax in the novel and there is an added scene with one of Eiko‘s ex-boyfriends. The film does manage to display its key emotions successfully and while it does have certain mistakes, it is very light in characterization and story, heavy in mood. The film is beautiful, and Ichikawa's direction is deeply focused. It is surreal and full of downhearted singularity that will envelop you with a warmth full of serenity--ready to transport you to a small isolated world.
It is NOT an uplifting story, nor is it for everyone but it is very REAL and Honest.
Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
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