REVIEW: DVD Release: Tony Takitani

Film: Tony Takitani
Release date: 24th July 2006
Certificate: U
Running time: 75 mins
Director: Jun Ichikawa
Starring: Issey Ogata, Rie Miyazawa
Genre: Drama
Studio: Axiom
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

One shall be someone special to deserve the right to have his or her name as the title of a movie (Amélie Poulain, Zatoichi, Forrest Gump…) or any other form of artwork; Tony Takitani (Issey Ogata) is just a man whose existence is severely tainted with loneliness unwillingly.

The film actually starts with the period preceding Tony Takitani’s birth: it pictures the life of Shozaburo Takitani (also played by Issey Ogata) – Tony’s father – in the Japan of the early 1940s. Being a jazz player appreciated by the Chinese army leads him to experience the endless isolation of prison, and to witness the shallowness of life when death can knock unexpectedly on the door. He is released in 1946, and marries a relative, who then gives birth to their child, but dies three days after the delivery. Being a lonely man before everything – including paternity – Shozaburo momentarily disappears from the screen and from Tony’s solitary childhood; the latter becomes the central character of the story from that point.

In this framework, the audience witnesses Tony Takitani’s progress through different ages of his life: his childhood is followed by successful academic years in technical illustration, during which his drawings speak more accurately than his voice or his feelings, still mute apparently. Some years later, he meets Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), an elegant client – “born to dress up” – about fifteen years younger, in his workplace. In this favourable environment, where he can fully express himself – professionally speaking - he falls for her, and as a consequence, he tries to court her (with success, ultimately). Her presence brings him to a blissful life that he never experienced in the past, and simultaneously it makes him realise the long-time burden of loneliness that his life was carrying; thus he feels the fear of having it back. Also, her presence is not without any cost: Eiko fills the emptiness of her own existence with compulsive shopaholic behaviour, and whose taste for fashion is at a very high standard, fetching and unceasingly accumulating brand new clothes that she barely wears in actual fact. Unfortunately, Tony Takitani’s world of rapture fatally falls apart, soon after he asks the young woman to refrain from her demented obsession with designer labels.

This leads us at last to the third part of the story: while he mourns in silence, Tony Takitani advertises for a position similar to personal assistant, but whose primary requirements are physical measurements…

Based on the short story Tony Takitani by the successful Japanese author Haruki Murakami, the director Jun Ichikawa perfectly recreates important elements from the structure of short stories, such as a few characters, a context efficiently set into place, short descriptions or details, and an unexpected climax. But beyond this fidelity, he transforms the words into beautiful pictures, ornate with great aesthetics and without ostentation. Indeed, the whole movie runs like a timeline that nothing can stop from moving forward, no matter what happens - it records each scene into the past, with black-and-white photographed frames or close-up shots in dull tones. The whole visual experience is told by the smooth voice of the omniscient narrator (Nishijima Hidetoshi), who sails quietly along with the film, with neutrality or possibly disempowerment.

Moreover, the precise performance of Issey Ogata is admirable. Ogata plays Tony’s reserve about his inner misery with marvel, and without the slightest sign of betrayal. He possesses the relevant features to express the lack and the loss of emotions of the Takitani’s, both disengaged from post-World War II Japan – implicitly the most forlorn place on the Earth after the ravages of war, and of the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By playing both father and son, he initiates a reflection about the unfathomable bonds with family and cultural heritage, as for instance, when ‘they’ respectively lie on the floor of the rotten prison cell, and of the previously luxurious closet. As for Rie Miyzawa, her double interpretation of Eiko/Hisako is pretty accurate – especially when playing Eiko – but she does not succeed to transcend the superficiality and the emptiness that describes her characters’ reality. This is possibly because the focus is obviously on Tony, restricting thus the extent of her pervasiveness in his life - in any case, Eiko is described through the way she dresses (she “inhabits her clothes”) from the beginning, so it is not necessary to expect depth coming out of her haute-couture shell.

At last, the bonus features provide a making of that must be highlighted. The audience will get to discover that the whole shooting has been made in modest conditions that firstly have had no negative impact on the final cut, but above all, that has nothing to do with its quality.

Tony Takitani is a great tale about loneliness and emptiness that conveys a visual artwork of an ineffable beauty that is tending towards perfection. Its tiny weakest link is based on the emotions vanishing too quickly, but I give Jun Ichikawa the benefit of the doubt that it was a deliberate choice. MCR

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