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Due to his Western name, Tony was shunned by other kids and spent a solitary childhood. Though gifted as an artist, his drawings lacked feeling, so as an adult, he carved a career as a technical illustrator. Then in middle age, Tony suddenly falls for a pretty young woman, Eiko Konuma, who visits him one day on business. Eiko is like an angel in Tony's daily existence, and for the first time in his life, he feels connected to the outside world. However, Eiko does have one fault: she's a clothing shopaholic. Confusion also begins to develop when it appears that Eiko has a double. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
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.
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