Friday, 18 August 2006

Tony Takitani トニー滝谷 (2004)

This was originally a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated and published in the New York Times in 2002. I’m offering this factoid as a means to explain why this film runs for barely over an hour, and why it is still worth paying to watch. Murakami’s sparse, even Spartan style, the interiority of his characters, and elements of the fantastic and absurd in his prose, have all been forwarded as reasons why his works are impossible to adapt to film.

Perhaps, as Ichikawa Jun seems to imply, the most appropriate material to choose are Murakami’s short stories. The short story format is supposed to be Spartan anyway, and fits in with these mood pieces. Tony Takitani, the short story, is a distillation of Murakami’s pet themes of alienation, loss and longing as the human condition. Tony Takitani (Ogata Issei), the character in the short story and movie, is a living shell of a man who has led a lonely life and has grown used to it, doesn’t know what he is missing, and is perfectly fine with it. The artistic genius frowns on beauty and aesthetics (irrelevant and wrong), doesn’t see the point in human society, and speaks to his father (Ogata Issei) once every 3 years because they wouldn’t know what to do with each other after they run out of things to say. Spartan to a fault, Tony works as a technical illustrator for ad agencies until a chance meeting with a client introduces the one and only time in his life where he is possessed by an emotion, and it changes everything.

If there is a quiet sense of tragedy that hangs over people who lack self-awareness, that sense of tragedy hangs over Tony Takitani like a permanent haze. A man who doesn’t know he is a hollow shell is somewhat pathetic, when the same man fills up that void with something meaningful, only to lose it in the end – this is tragedy.

Ichikawa Jun chooses to make a very straightforward adaptation of the original short story by refusing to turn this into a full length feature. The most interesting and compelling decision, though, is to deliberately film Tony Takitani as an illustrated short story. Scenes are mostly short and sometimes disjointed, with camera panning as a method of screen transition. On the big screen, this evokes the sensation akin to reading a classical Japanese illustrated scroll, with the narrator (Nishijima Hideoshi) standing in for the calligraphic text and Ichikawa’s postcard style photography standing in for the illustrations. An artistic touch that may or may not work on audiences is Ichikawa often has the characters speaking aloud and completing the narrator’s lines. It might seem a little affected, but I personally derived some satisfaction knowing that a film about an ascetic can only be made through a keen aesthetic sense.

First published at incinemas on 31 August 2006

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