A friend of mine interested in Japanese film has asked me to post commentary on some of my favorites. Here are my thoughts on Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani which I recently watched on dvd.
Tony Takitani is a beautiful, melancholic film!! I completely understand why several critics included it among their top ten of 2004. Several even included it in their top ten of 2005, myself included.
Tony Takitani received its North American premiere at the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival, and was also screened as part of the World Cinema series at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. I was wowed by it and watched it twice in a row. I love it when a film makes me want to see it again right away!
First and foremost the elegant art direction of Yoshikazu Ichida is masterfully shot by Taishi Hirokawa and textured with a desultory tinkling piano score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The overall effect is like a still introspection in soft snowfall. I appreciated the braiding of set design, music and narrative/spoken dialogue to render this poignant story of isolation, alienation and loneliness.
From the moment you realize that Tony Takitani is a child who will draw leaves rather than flowers, and mechanical illustrations rather than "great" art, you realize that what is often "natural" about a human being is exactly what will isolate them from others. An eye for detail and loneliness become natural.
John Beebe, film theorist at the C.G. Jung Institute, taught me his impression that when a camera pans from right to left it implies a psychological gradient towards the past; from left to right a movement towards the future and individuation. As narrative device the camera in Tony Takitani slides along in measured, stately fashion towards the right. Episodes in Tony's life are depicted as isolated rooms, divided by thick walls. As a further narrative device to reinforce the alientation, Tony's life is talked about by an omniscient narrator, but no more so than Tony and the personages in Tony's life talk about themselves in third person. As if the loneliness is so acute that it can only be described indirectly.
This film also reminded me of Coco Chanel's admonition that two people who marry to rid themselves of loneliness only double their loneliness. Tony's wife is addicted to buying clothes precisely, as she admits, to fill an emptiness in herself. She personifies what Simone du Beauvoir (in her best resemblance of Sartre) capsulized about the plight of commodity-hypnotized women: to have is to be. Identity becomes based not on something substantive, something at core, but rather something stylish, an appearance, the self-delusion of persona. This creates an interesting and peculiar tension between Tony and Eiko (his wife) because he has filled his emptiness with his love for her. He has come to understand that leaning into the gentle presence of the beloved is the only escape from the prison of loneliness; but, even though Eiko loves him, she still needs to fill her emptiness through buying clothes. When he asks her to stop this, they are startled by the sound of a silent glass shattering.
He has, of course, undone them both.
The addition of jazz into the equation furthers the theme that jazz expresses the undeciphered glyphs of the human heart and that, over time, memory becomes the heart's cargo. I remember my elder friend Lee telling me when I was a young man not to hurry too quickly to create memories because, in time, they would only burden me. Tony Takitani attests the same as, first, his wife's clothes, and second, his father's music, become more than his heart can carry. Finally it is only his natural state of loneliness that will allow Tony Takitani to live.
This film is a beautiful, poetic meditation on the heart's existential plight among others.
One of my favorite bloggers is Doug Cummings. He and Darren Hughes were instrumental in motivating me to finally share my love of film with others. Here's his commentary on Tony Takitani: