DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TONY TAKITANI (director/writer: Jun Ichikawa; screenwriter: based on the story by Haruki Murakami; cinematographer: Hirokawa Taishi; editor: Sanjyo Tomoo; music: Ryuichi Sakamoto; cast: Issey Ogata (Tony Takitani/Takitani Shozaburo), Rie Miyazawa (Konuma Eiko/Hisako), Shinohara Takahumi (Young Tony Takitani) and Nishijima Hidetoshi (Narrator); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ishida Motoki/ Yonezawa Keiko/Koshikawa Michio/Higuchi Shinsuke; Strand Releasing; 2004-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"An impressive achievement."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gripping meditation on loneliness and loss as directed and written by Jun Ichikawa ("Tokyo Lullaby"). It's based on the lyrical short story by Haruki Murakami. It's a delicately woven story told with spare dialogue in a minimalist style, and with a narrator who reminds us "Loneliness is like a prison." It's helped greatly by its brilliant pacing and brilliant performances by the lead actors Issey Ogata and Rie Miyazawa in double roles. There's also a spirited spare piano score by Sakamoto, which helps create the sensitive mood along with the warm sepia colors that drench the screen.

The film begins by telling of the hard luck jazz trombonist Takitani Shozaburo (Issey Ogata) returning from imprisonment in a Chinese cell during World War II and catching a lucky break at last marrying his distant cousin in 1947; a year later his wife dies at childbirth after giving birth to a son whom he names Tony (Issey Ogata) after an American major who was his friend, thinking the Americans exerted influence in Japan during the postwar period and such a name might be a good idea. Neglected by his father and rejected by the other students because of his American name, Tony grows up alienated and alone. Nevertheless the loner, told by his art teacher and other art students that he lacked an artist's soul, becomes a successful technical illustrator (preferring machines over humans or ideology) and at the age of 37, in 1985, after living an austere isolated life falls in love with his new assistant Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), 15 years his junior, and in a dreamlike courtship eventually wins his equally lacking in spiritual matters soul mate over to accept his marriage proposal. For the first time in his life he doesn't feel lonely and experiences happiness, his only quibble about the marriage is that his wife is so compulsive she can't stop buying expensive designer clothes--so much so that he has to convert a room into a clothes closet. His life becomes shattered after this brief feeling of normalcy when his wife suddenly dies in a traffic accident and he's once again alone. Not knowing what to think or do, he hires a girl for his office named Hisako (Rie Miyazawa) who is similar in appearance and size to his wife. He only puts one condition on the job, that she wear his wife's clothes as a uniform to work. 

There's a political subtext that tells Japan to beware of the American influence, it might not be as helpful as first thought. It also relates to grieving for the dead and how the living must carry on living and be true to themselves in these changing times, even if these changes cause a breakdown in traditional Japanese society and an out-of-control consumerism.

An almost impossible book to film that dwells solely on the subconscious is nevertheless presented in a lyrical manner comparable to the book, as it stands on its own merits as quite an impressive achievement.

REVIEWED ON 6/23/2006        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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