Directed by Jun Ichikawa. Starring Issey Ogata, Rie Miyazawa. (2004, NR, 76 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Oct. 7, 2005
This adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s eponymous short story is a delicate little curio, underlaid by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s exquisite tea-room piano score and filmed in a floating-camera mise-en-scène that surveys its cast of two like figurines in a cabinet. At 76 minutes, it’s neither a short nor a feature, but something in between – just as Murakami’s stories are neither "literary" nor "popular" but something else entirely, a something that resists these classifications. Like its source, the film feels lighter than air and gravely philosophical at once. It’s not a perfectly realized example of cinematic art, although great care has been taken with it, and its two stars are fine in their dual roles. Tony (Ogata) is the introverted son of a free-living jazz musician (Ogata again) and a mother who died when he was days old. Tony has always lived independently – more alone than "alone" suggests – and has a strictly material appreciation of the world around him: the workings of machines, the details of the objects he illustrates as an artist. When he falls in love, it’s with a woman (Miyazawa) as materially oriented as he. Her passion is designer apparel: its colors, its construction, its textures. More than a fashion plate or a compulsive shopper, Eiko craves the substance of clothing around her. Without it, she feels empty. After they marry, Tony converts half the house into a giant wardrobe for her acquisitions. But when he asks her to curb her shopping, his request strikes at the heart of who she is and has unexpected consequences. The film gestures toward our understanding of deep matters – grief, solitude, and the process by which people build and express their very selves – and it does so with a commendably steady, gentle hand. It’s also a surprisingly nuanced depiction of the concessions of a marriage, revealing more than meatier films on the same topic do in twice the screen time. It has its flaws, chiefly that the film is too anchored in Murakami’s exposition, which translates into voiceover narration by an unseen speaker (Nishijima Hidetoshi). Adapting Murakami is surely a devil’s bargain, even when the stories are set in the here-and-now; his lucid turns of phrase are irresistible, and they do not transform into images without losing their power. Murakami can accomplish with two sentences ("Takitani Shozaburo wasn’t naturally suited to being a father. Nor was Tony Takitani naturally suited to being a son") what a conventional screenplay might attempt (and fail to achieve) in two hours, which is probably why only a few segments of the movie are in master-scene format. As it is, Tony Takitani amplifies its source but doesn’t stand apart from it. Is it worth seeing anyway? Absolutely. But it recommends itself best to viewers who can appreciate its novelty and roll with the risks it takes.