Directed by Jun Ichikawa. Japan. 2004.

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"Shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion" - T. S. Eliot 

Tony Takitani is the Japanese "man without qualities", a modern reflection of alienation in a money-driven society. Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, he is without strong family attachments, an "outsider" who is unable to fully give of himself to another person. Like the unnamed hero in Henri Barbusse's L'Enfer, he has "no genius, no mission to fulfill, no remarkable feelings to bestow". It feels natural to him to be alone. To evoke Murakami's world of silence and serenity, Ichikawa fills the screen with blank spaces and uses only a simple theater stage with very few actors and little dialogue. The thoughts of the characters are conveyed only in low-toned voiceovers that, along with a decolorized palette and a dreamy piano score by Academy Award winner Ryuichi Sakamoto, establish a mood of solitude and melancholy. 

Issei Ogata who portrayed Emperor Hirohito in Sokurov's The Sun, plays both father Schozaburo Takitani and son while the elegant Rie Miyazawa is both Tony's wife Eiko Konuma and Hisako, an unemployed woman who Tony hires to work for him. Schozaburo was a jazz musician who went to China during World War II and was arrested and returned to Japan after the war. When the boy was born, he was given the American name of Tony on the suggestion of a friend. Tony grew up feeling lonely as his mother died when he was only two and his father was mostly out of town on tour. He developed his talent as a mechanical illustrator and enjoyed the work. By the time he was thirty-five he had managed to save a lot of money but he did not realize how lonely he was until he was almost forty. 

Tony had never considered marriage, had never seen a need for it. Then without warning, he fell in love with Eiko (Miyazawa). The first thing he noticed about her was how she wore her clothes. In Murakami's words, "there was something so wonderful about the way this girl dressed that it made a deep impression on him; indeed, one could even say it moved him. There were plenty of women around who dressed elegantly, and plenty more who dressed to impress, but this girl was different. Utterly different. She wore her clothes with such naturalness and grace that she could have been a bird that had enveloped itself in a special wind as it prepared to fly off to another world. He had never seen a woman wear her clothes with such apparent joy." Tony realized this was his only chance at marriage and insisted that she cancel her marriage plans with a younger man so she could marry her. 

Tony now felt that his loneliness was over. Eiko, however, still felt an emptiness. She needed to buy more and more expensive clothes to maintain her self-image. She bought more clothes than she needed and admitted that it was an obsession that she was unable to control. Tony was so afraid of losing her and returning to his lonely existence that he did not ask her to stop shopping until her expanding wardrobe filled an entire room. Then he asked politely, "I wish you would consider cutting back a little on the way you buy clothes," he said. "It's not a question of money. I'm not talking about that. I have no objection to your buying what you need, and it makes me happy to see you looking so pretty, but do you really need so many expensive dresses?" 

Eiko agrees but this decision leads to tragic consequences and loneliness seeps into him once again. Tony Takitani unfolds slowly, chapter by chapter as in a book, and one scene seems to blend laterally into another. The film is slow, darkly poetic, and almost surreal, yet it builds in power and emotional resonance until you are completely snared by its inner rhythm and left to quietly explore its implications -- when you are alone. 


Howard Schumann
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