A middle-aged man tries to live as best he can in Jun Ichikawa’s study of solitude and compulsion.
“Loneliness is like a prison, that’s how Tony saw it.”
I love me a good bombastic action film or melodramatic romance. Cinema is, after all, an audio-visual medium and a movie that can take full advantage of that can make for an excellent experience. But sometimes, a film just needs to be quiet and calm to be effective, and that’s where Tony Takitani, the contemplative drama based on Haruki Murakami’s short story, comes in.
Told through a series of scenes, most of which are shown as measured, scrolling dioramas moving gently from left to right, Tony Takitani’s story unfolds over narration. After a quick introduction to Tony (Issey Ogata in dual roles)’s father to establish their relationship, we’re then told about our titular character, who was often alone in life due to his negligent father and foreign name. Tony is a quiet man who is often lonely in his job as a technical illustrator. The film explores scenes from his life, such as meeting and ultimately marrying shopaholic Eiko (Rie Miyazawa, also playing two parts), and explores the way he reacts to and deals with happiness and tragedy.
There isn’t much to Tony Takitoni in terms of plot, but that’s also not really the point. The film is more a study on loneliness and the way relationships are built and maintained than anything else. In many ways, the Tony Takitoni experience is less like watching a film and more like catching an audiobook with pictures. Most of Murakami’s story is narrated by Hidetoshi Nishijima, and the movie’s visuals are kept to mostly medium shots, at times being reminiscent of illustrations.
Because it’s lacking in pure content, it clocks in at only 75 minutes. The restraint shown by director Jun Ichikawa is admirable, as the film could have easily been padded out by another twenty minutes, but Ichikawa keeps it simple and as a result, the film remains faithful to its short story roots. Not only that but the minimalist approach to shooting feels in line with Murakami’s written work. It’s a film that’s meant to evoke Tony’s point of view of the world more than anything else, and that’s not something that needs a lot of screentime to explore properly.
It isn’t the most exciting film to watch, or even listen to, but there’s a charm to the way everything has been put together. It’s a patient film that asks us to be patient with it, and occasionally moments of Ichikawa’s cinematic style come prominently into play. Having both Ogata and Miyazawa play dual roles makes for great visual poetry, and there are other tricks, such as showing memories as if they were home movies, that help keep the film feeling fresh. Tony Takitani is the sort of film you’ll know you’ll like from its first few minutes, but even if the style isn’t your thing, you might find yourself drawn into this man’s solitary, but gripping, little life.
Verdict: Often melancholy but frequently poignant, Tony Takitani is a short, sweet film that – like its protagonist – is content just being itself.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Women: Be shopping, yo
Job ads: Sure, go for one that specifically asks your shoe and dress size
Tony Takitani (2004)
Also known as: トニー滝谷
Director: Jun Ichikawa
Writers: Haruki Murakami (short story), Jun Ichikawa
Issey Ogata – Tony Takitani, Shozaburo Takitani
Rie Miyazawa – Konuma Eiko, Hisako
Takahumi Shinohara – Young Tony
Hidetoshi Nishijima – Narrator (voice)