Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa, 2004)

For the most part of his life, Tony Takitani has cherished a solitary existence . As a middle-aged bachelor, he sets store by his solitude, content in a job that allows him a measure of self-containment, and oblivious to everything else. As a voice-over narrator explains, the status quo seems “the most natural thing in the world.” It isn’t a lonely life but one inured to the absence of family. Tony’s one remaining relation is his itinerant father who has always been away on gigs playing the trombone in a jazz band.

But the proverbial curve ball comes hurtling his way in the form of Eiko, a stylish, young and beautiful fellow artist at work. Tony is drawn to her for some strange reason that he can only attribute to her materialistic obsession – a mania for fashion and expensive designer clothes. All of a sudden, something without precedent has clicked in Tony Takitani, the human instinct to love.

But this is merely one half of Tony Takitani’s story. What perhaps it is in a deeper sense is not just the advent of love, but the eventual recuperation from loss. This film charts the emotional awakening of Tony Takitani.

Far from the routine implications of the everyday themes of love and loss, Tony Takitani is no prosaic story, but a hauntingly poetic character study of its titular protagonist. It’s a slow and meditative examination of a character who is discovering belatedly what it means to be human.

Director Jun Ichikawa observes the cycle of bliss and bereavement with equal restraint and equanimity. He constructs a chamber drama like a Japanese scroll, as we follow what feels like one 75-minute-long tracking shot from beginning to end. The cinematography proceeds with a slow and stately inevitability propelled by its lead character’s instinctual, immutable feelings.

Tony Takitani is a hymn to love and loss and Ichikawa stays within that purview. When Eiko, whom Tony has married, dies in a car crash, Tony’s decision to make Hisako, a dead-ringer for Eiko, wear his dead wife’s clothes as a sign of his mourning may recall what happens in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. But it stays a safe distance a way. There is also no enshrinement of the relics of Hisako – a whole room of clothes and shoes – that might reference the ghoulish extremes of Truffaut’s The Green Room.

There is a kind of spiritual release in the scenes where Tony decides what to do with the earthly reminders of both Eiko and his father. What Ichikawa has captured in Tony Takitani is the transcendence of the earthly, a reaffirmation of what is essential and truly important. And Tony’s last act will make you nod in approval.

1 comment:

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