Tony (Issei Ogata) lost his mother as a young boy and was abandoned by his jazz-playing father during the war. He has become a competent, if passionless, graphic artist and developed a fascination for co-worker Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), a pretty woman 15 years his junior, and they marry. But, he doesn’t realize the extent of her obsession for high-end fashion, an fixation that will tragically change his life in “Tony Takitani.”
Helmer/scribe Jun Ichikawa adapts the short story, by Haruki Murakami, in a tale of loneliness, fear of being alone, intense consumerism and love found and, through misunderstanding and tragedy, love lost.
Tony has been alone most of his life, spending his time with his work and not much else. He becomes smitten with Eiko and the way she wears her expensive designer clothes, even after she confesses that most of her meager salary is spent on said clothes and all the accessories. They marry and Tony’s loneliness abates but is replaced by his concern that, just maybe, his wife spends a little too much money on her expensive frocks. Though Eiko makes a valiant attempt to curb her copious spending, it takes just a moment to make a fateful wrong decision.
The tragic event thrusts Tony back into his perpetual state of loneliness. He is afraid of being alone again after a lifetime of solitary loneliness. Stuck with his pain and a room full of size 7, very expensive designer clothes – and we are not talking knock offs – he puts advertises for a secretary. The job description includes, besides filing and buying office supplies, that the applicant be of that particular size and must wear the clothes. He hires Hisako (Rie Miyazawa again, playing two roles) who fits the bill (and strongly resembles Eiko) and is pleased with the opportunity to wear some really fine rags. When she sees the vast, elegant wardrobe she is overwhelmed and quits, leaving Tony alone and lonely, again. The story ends on a sad, melancholy note as he revisits, in his mind, with his long dead father who left him alone so long ago.
Ichikawa takes the sparse story and creates a near silent film of images, making “Tony Takitani” minimalist filmmaking to be commended. Spare dialogue with an almost poetic voiceover by Hidetoshi Nishijima makes things slowly unfold with an underlying sense of sorrow. Lensing by Taishi Hirokawa complements the film’s lyrical style of storytelling with slow camera movement and nicely composed mise en scenes. I particularly like the way costume and set design come together in an extended montage using many foot level shots of the unbelievable number of expensive designer shoes in the film’s statement on obsessive consumerism.
Issei Ogata, who also plays Tony’s father, Shozaburo, in flashback, is in sync with Ichikawa’s minimalism and is the epitome of a man wrapped in his sad solitude. Rie Miyazawa gives two solid and very different performances, one of obsession and the other of sympathy.
Tony Takitani” runs only about 75 minutes but is so well and deftly crafted that it couldn’t be a minute more…or less. I give it a B.
'Tony Takitani's real name was...Tony Takitani.'
So begins writer/director Jun Ichikawa's (from the Haruki Murakami novel) highly stylized vision of a lonely man who briefly finds someone to make him happy. Still photographs and flashback tableaux accompany narrator Hidetoshi Nishijima's ("Dolls") Takitani family history and we learn that his father, Shozaburo (Issei Ogat, "Yi Yi," who also plays Tony), is a travelling jazz musician who married late in life and lost his wife three days after the birth of his only child. Tony spends much of his childhood alone except for a housekeeper's care and we see his solitary oddness develop as he makes ocean liners out of sand on a city street or, given a subject vase of flowers in art class, draws a very detailed leaf. Even Tony's American name, suggested by an American serviceman who helped his father grieve the loss of his mother, sets him apart.
"Tony Takitani" is also about how things often define their owners. Tony's few possessions are the art supplies he uses to create illustrations of other things, mostly machinery. His job as a mechanical illustrator proves lucrative, but his modern home is a study in minimalism. One day, the middle-aged Tony is visited in his home office by Eiko (Rie Miyazawa, "The Twilight Samurai"), a fashionable woman fifteen years his senior and he is shot through the heart. A lunch date or two later and he's asked her to marry him. 'I never met anyone who fills out their clothes with as much relish as you,' he explains and she smiles with acknowledgement, admitting self-centeredness and self-completion through addictive purchase of clothing. On a rare meeting with Shozaburo, he tells his father he thinks he's found himself in love. 'It's as if she was born to dress up,' he offers in way of explanation to his laughing dad.
The two are happy together for a time, bonding over their joint possession of a cactus plant 'with a lot of personality,' but Eiko's designer clothing fixation continues to spiral out of hand until an entire room of their home does nothing but house her wardrobe. She makes an effort to stop, but overturning her own denial becomes her ironic undoing. Despondent, Tony runs an ad for an assistant who is the same size as Eiko and Hisako applies (Rie Miyazawa again). She is overcome at the sight of Eiko's beautiful clothes and her sobbing perhaps voices Tony's grief, as he changes his mind about Hisako's employment. Two years later, Tony loses his father and the space where Eiko's things are taken over briefly by Shozaburo's, until he, too, is finally laid to rest.
Ichikawa's film may be linear, but it is not told in traditional narrative, unmistakably an art piece and as Japanese as a Japanese garden. The opening tableaux continue throughout the film, as does the narration, with characters usually speaking only to end the narrator's sentences. Taishi Hirokawa's camera moves across each carefully composed scene slowly from left to right, sometimes stopping when it finds its subject, sometimes not. These subject figures appear in the foreground, very distinct from distant backgrounds and are often dwarfed by their surroundings. A simple piano score by Ryuichi Sakamoto ("Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence") is interrupted only occasionally by a surrealistic ticking clock. Were it not for Ichikawa's brevity (the film runs under eighty minutes), these devices would become repetitive, but as they stand the movie itself seems like an obsession.
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