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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
Glacial, Idiosyncratic Journey for a Man Trapped by His Loneliness
Director Jun Ichikawa demonstrates a uniquely idiosyncratic film-making style somewhat reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu's work in his constant use of lengthy medium shots shot at waist level, as well as a certain narrative sensibility that focuses on elliptical episodes to unfold a story in a subtly uneventful manner. Unlike Ozu, however, Ichiwara verges somewhat toward contrivance in unspooling his tale, one that feels more like a paean to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". However, the Freudian subtext and Baroque melodrama of that classic have been submerged in favor of glacial pacing and implied emotionalism.
The title character with the staccato name is the only son of a renowned jazz trombonist. He grows up to become a lonely technical illustrator who obsesses over his work and remains content in his solitude. He finally meets Eiko, a beautiful, demure woman with an even greater obsession - an uncontrollable desire for designer clothes. Upon his insistence, they marry and live happily for a time, so much so that he realizes he can never live without her. True to Murphy's law, tragedy strikes, and the plot turns on what Tony does next to fill the void in his existence. Based on a short story by popular writer Haruki Murakami (who wrote the intriguingly surreal "Kafka on the Shore" released last year in the US), the 2005 movie effectively captures the author's highly stylized world, in particular, Tony's solitude in a series of lingering silences and mundane activities punctuated by acts of quirky behavior.
The beautifully muted cinematography is by Taishi Hirokawa, and it reminds me of Gordon Willis's work on Woody Allen's "Interiors". Similar to the Bergmaneque feeling of that film, Hirokawa achieves a consistent aesthetic that matches an art design that sees characters occupying clean white and gray spaces rendered with a soft graininess. Moreover, the camera moves gradually though pointedly from left to right as transitional devices to move the story's action forward as if following a horizontal timeline or looking though a series of slides. The technique is intriguing at first but eventually feels contrived, just like the literary conceit of having the characters finish the narrator's sentences (Hidetoshi Nishijima provides the penetrating voice narration throughout the story). There is also a meditative, Windham Hill-esquire music score by the estimable Ryuichi Sakamoto, which aptly captures the evocative nature of the story structure.
The acting is unobtrusive to fit the mostly quiet atmosphere. In true Hitchcockian fashion, Ichikawa has his two leads play double roles - Issei Ogata plays Tony and his jazz musician father, and Rie Miyazawa plays Eiko and Hisako, the woman who responds to Tony's ad. Truthfully, neither makes that vivid an impression in either role, and that is part of the problem I have with the film, the lack of indelible characters to inhabit the hermetically sealed world that Ichikawa and Murakami have created. The paper-thin plot yields very little opportunity for emotional payoffs, and there is little that remains resonant after all is said and done. Even at a brief 75-minute running time, it feels like slow going and lingers with a vague sense of hopelessness. By the way, the DVD has no significant extras.
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