Tony Takitani

JETAA NY Movie Review at Japan Society


Directed by Jun Ichikawa, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami

Reviewed by Harper Alexander (Hokkaido-ken, 2002-04)

(Summer 2005)

Nowhere’s not crowded in Tokyo.

In the spring there, all the junior high school students and high school students are on their school trips and throng the streets and subway cars and giggle over coffees and hang their bags just so in the crook of their elbows or off their shoulders.  Everyone takes photographs and you all coo, sigh, shriek, and shock at the same things.

In the summer there, backstreets in Shibuya and Akasaka are overloaded and given over entirely to pedestrians, the crowds metastasize, easily fill this new space as well.  You buy shoes and italian ices and t-shirts.  Tanned construction workers tie thin white towels around their heads and necks to soak up the sweat.

In the winter there, the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of hordes and hats and fur-lined jackets moves down the sidewalks together and you can see your breath and the breath of everyone around you.  All of that breath is wispy and white and wafting upwards, and it feels like you’re all one massive swaying body, one giant animal respiring – aspiring – together.

But director Jun Ichikawa’s film Tony Takitani seems to take place in a perpetual Tokyo autumn.  The city is serene, still, calm, cool, empty, beautiful.  So are the two main characters; so is the film itself.  Based on a couple of short stories by Haruki Murakami, the film feels like a piece of writing.  It has the tenuous pacing and unresolved ending that short fiction can get away with and film usually does not attempt.  In nearly every scene, the camera comes out from behind something on the left – table, column, plant – moves to the right and goes behind something else – wall, chair, body – like eyes moving across a page.

There is a voiceover from the outset that gives the audience some background on the man before them.  Tony Takitani, played by Issey Ogata, is not particularly photogenic or energetic, but the sense is that he is at least a good man.

He grew up alone, son of a dead mother and an absent father (away playing with a jazz band, Tony’s father Shozaburo is also played by Ogata), and settled into a career as an illustrator, straddling the line between high art and pure functionality.  Competent but never entirely comfortable, good but never entirely happy, Tony is unlocked one day when he meets a beautiful young client, Eiko, who is interested in high-end fashion.  It is clear that Tony is in love with her from the start.  After a short time they are married.  Despite the many brushes, charcoals, paints and other implements of art-making that surround him, Eiko, played by Rie Miyazawa, is the first object of real beauty in Tony’s life – the illustrator gets animated.

But there are down-sides to being so alive.  The detachment Tony has lived with for so long evaporates as he attaches himself to this beautiful young woman.  He knows love but now can anticipate loss.  His monochromatic self-sufficiency is swarmed and overwhelmed by Eiko’s vibrancy.  She quite literally brings color and texture into his home – instead of the creamy off-whites and dull sand-shades of his abode, we are treated to a long moving close-up shot of rack after rack of exotic fabrics and patterns and colors.

This wouldn’t necessarily be bad, but her shopping seems out of control.  Her love for the clothes and shoes and hats she brings home is obsessive, almost anthropomorphic.  After getting accustomed to Tony’s minor-key bachelor habits for the first 45 minutes of the film, Eiko’s intensity is as unsettling and bizarre to the audience as it is to her husband.  Tony clears out an entire room for her wardrobe, entire closets for her shoes, but he senses something is not quite right.  Finally he speaks up and asks her if she can tone
down her shopping.  Money is not the issue – he simply cannot understand her need to buy so much so often.

Thankfully, this is not “Married With Children” or some other screeching middlebrow sitcom, in which the harried husband pleads with the shopaholic wife to come home from the mall, to a resounding guffaw from the laugh track.  The consequences are much more severe in this film.  After Tony asks Eiko to cut back, she never appears again.

Or does she?  In the most beautiful shot in the entire film, Tony mourns Eiko’s loss from his knees in her walk-in closet room under a fluorescent light.  The garments she bought so fanatically are all he has left of her, and they hang like a hundred skeletons around him.  If she poured herself so obsessively into the clothes, and the clothes are still in place, is part of her still there?  To further complicate matters, Tony’s loneliness and desperation pushes him to place an ad in the newspaper, seeking a perfect size 7 to wear
Eiko’s clothes.

Miyazawa plays Hisako, the surrogate, as well.  She comes, she interviews with Tony, for a brief time she wears the clothes.  She is perfect for the “part” but unnerving and Tony recognizes his folly quickly.

With only two principal actors, “Tony Takitani” is a study in compression and restraint.  I watched it on an early summer night in Manhattan, which is a study in neither of those traits, but the film was stronger than the city on that night and made New York seem quiet, which was refreshing.  Re-imagining Tokyo and hushing New York – no small feats for such a small movie.

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