Tony Takitani (2004)

88% – Critics
82% – Audience

Tony Takitani Storyline

Tony Takitani had a solitary childhood. At school he studied art, but while his sketches are accurate and detailed, they lack feeling. Used to being self-sufficient, Tony finds himself becoming more irrational and instinctive. After finding his true vocation as a technical illustrator, he becomes fascinated by Eiko, a client who in turn is fascinated by high end fashion.

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Tony Takitani Movie Reviews

A love letter to loneliness

*whew* It’s been a while since I’ve been this intoxicated by a film… at least not since February’s Nobody Knows.

Tony Takitani is a beautiful poem to loneliness.

The eponymous character is a quintessential loner. As the prologue informs us: His father, a WWII vet who pretty much left most of his soul in POW camp, was not much of a father. His mother died a few days after his death. He has been self-sufficient for most of his life.

We see him mostly by himself, alone near his desk, sketching drawings of motors, engines, amongst other mechanized structures. As the omniscient narrator tell us: Tony doesn’t understand the fascination over paintings imbued with passion and ideology. It is certainly fitting for a man bereft of any human connection with another individual to identify with the colder, impersonal realm of mankind.

His lonely streak finally ends when he meets a woman at work. She is pretty, approachable, and most importantly of all, attracted to Tony. After a semi-rocky courting, they finally marry. Tony relishes in this foreign arrangement, but this exchange of intimacy with another person has Tony terrified. He is terrified because, as the narrator informs us, he might be lonely again, regressing back to his former state of isolation.

Maybe I’m too hypersensitive for my own good, but I wept a little when I heard these words. I felt that it could’ve not been a more articulate way to express the vulnerability of humans, especially the ones living in this modern age. Tony is aware of the cruel, unrelenting nature of time: Just as his mother died within days of childbirth and his father barely escaped the “thin boundaries of life and death” in POW camp, he can easily lose all this one day.

As it is, the inevitable does happen. I shall not reveal the unfortunate fate of Tony’s wife and of their relationship, but the biggest rift in their marriage is her shopaholic tendencies. As she, herself, summed it up during their first encounter together: clothes help alleviate the emptiness she feels. After Tony’s delicate mention about her habits, she frustratingly tries to restrain herself, only to surrender to the compulsions. In lesser hands, this subplot could’ve been ripe for (unintentional) camp, but in director Jun Ichikawa’s hands, this consuming dysfunction only adds more layers to the film’s restrained and somber mood: Tony’s wife is not in control of her actions, which in turn, diverts his state of love and companionship to loneliness, once again.

With his wife gone, Tony becomes downtrodden, and then obsessed. In a Vertigo-esquire twist, he hires a woman who is the spitting image of his wife to take care of the house while wearing his wife’s fashion couture wardrobe. The hired housekeeper’s reaction to the extensive collection of wardrobe is more or less, abnormal–and of which, unexpectedly serves as a waking call for Tony.

Tony realizes that the only way to obliterate the obsession of his wife is to obliterate all of her clothes. As The Christian Science Monitor pointed out, one of the underlying themes of the film is “the complex relationship between objects and memories.” As the narrator aptly tell us: the clothes are like lurking shadows; ghosts, if you must. What was once worn by a breathing, living body has now been only relegated to the closet. Tony could not bear looking at the clothes without thinking about her.

His father, the one who has long neglected him, passed away not much longer afterwards. Tony does the same thing to his father’s belongings (a trumpet and a collection of records): he obliterated them. For what good are objects if they only remind one of pain? One could argue that although Tony and his wife shared different feelings about objects (she wanted to obtain them, whereas he wanted to obliterate them), they had one thing in common: both internalized objects into their inner selves.

The relationship humans have with objects is only a secondary theme. The film, for the most part, is simply about loneliness and how an individual such as Tony deals with that state of loneliness.

As you can tell, I love this film (otherwise, I’d probably not write so damn long). But this film is not for everyone. A couple in the movie theater gave up within twenty minutes into the film. A lady in front of me told her companion (when the movie was over) that she was tempted to sleep throughout the showing.

But if you are a sucker for atmospheric portraits of loneliness, slow and beautiful pans, and crazy about the empty urban architectural spaces in Edward Hopper’s painting, then please, by all means, see Tony Takitani.

Delicate perfection

Perhaps obviously a short story. It seemed like a short story. It turns out it is, by Haruki Murakami, and it appeared in translation in The New Yorker three years ago. It’s constantly narrated, this film, in voice-over, sometimes with the actors finishing one of the narrator’s sentences, as if they were in a tableau. A boy is born to a jazz musician father shortly after the end of the war and his mother dies, he is neglected, he learns the melancholy life of being alone, and he becomes an artist, eventually a successful illustrator specializing in depicting anything mechanical. He finds a wife, younger than himself, who makes him happy, but loving clothes, and now having a good source of income, because Tony Takitani is quite successful in his career as an illustrator, she becomes addicted to shopping. She buys an endless number of dresses, coats, shoes, so many a whole big room has to be set up to store them. When he loses her, he devises a strange ruse to transition himself into a life without her. The story fizzles away… but it’s told with such tact and style that one walks out curiously satisfied.

Tony’s back-story, his boyhood, his trombonist dad, his early artistic development, the far-off immediate postwar years, using black and white stills and movies, is constructed so engagingly and with such a fine hand in the editing that the central events, which may seem more a conceit than a story, are almost a letdown. The main section is presented in very faded greyed out color that is perfectly right for the delicacy of the telling. Left to right slow panning shots create an effect like turning pages; the wife’s developing shopaholism is depicted in overlapping shots of her legs walking in a succession of elegant shoes and boots. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s simple piano score resembles French impressionist compositions like Satie’s “3 Pieces in the Form of a Pear.” If the subject matter is a bit thin, the style is such a delight that it doesn’t matter, and the themes of loneliness, dress, possession, and money (relevant to our last century and to Japan’s postwar history and perhaps to all human experience) are thought-provoking enough to make the minimalist content expand in the mind. A quiet, subtle, delightful film.

the art of melancholy

This film, minimalist in the best possible sense, is a lyrical study of isolation and loss. Tony Takitani (Issei Ogata) grows up the loner kid of a jazz-playing, loner father. Like his father, Tony masters an art, drawing, and eventually becomes very successful. Early in his adulthood Tony has a few failed romances but never considers marriage until, in middle age, he meets a woman fifteen years his junior, the sight of whom for the first time adds an unshakable pain to his profound solitude.

A long sequence of aged Japanese photographs acts as a prelude to the film, telling in a few minutes the story of Tony’s father. This section of plot takes up a much greater portion of Haruki Murakami’s original short story, and Jun Ichikawa made a wise decision in reducing it, though utmost respect for the source material is in evidence throughout the film.

And then Tony’s story itself begins, and if you are going to fall for this film, you do it then. From start to finish, really, the film is an episodic accumulation of small, deeply-touching scenes tied together by very simple yet evocative piano music and the enchanting voice of a narrator (Hidetoshi Nishijima) whose warm, thoughtful delivery makes one think of some poet of a bygone era.

Tony’s courtship of Eiko and his subsequent troubles draw us closer and closer to this sad, beautiful soul until his loneliness finally becomes absolute. Ichikawa solidifies these intense layers of feeling with wonderfully basic techniques: stirring skylines and skyscapes used as backdrops; lovely, tangible environments; and discrete, minimalist camera angles–key conversations shot from behind the characters, over the shoulder, for instance. As a side note, the one film to which I can compare “Tony Takitani” is Laurent Cantet’s “L’emploi du temps” (France, 2001), which has a similarly touching minimalism married to the intense inner lives of characters.

I was fortunate enough to see “Tony Takitani” at the 2005 Seattle International Film Festival, and of the films I have seen at the festival over the past decade, this ranks among my favorite three–the others being the 1996 Israeli film “Clara Hakedosha” (“Saint Clara”) and 1999’s “A la medianoche y media” (“At Midnight and a Half”) from South America. I cannot imagine a better feature film to first bring the brilliant writing of Haruki Murakami to the big screen.

Note: Murakami’s “Tony Takitani” was first published in English in the April 15, 2002 issue of The New Yorker.