For everything I liked about "Tony Takitani", there is something about the film I disliked. In the end, I'm glad I saw the Japanese film on DVD, but if I had paid to see it at a theater, I wouldn't have been as happy. It takes the right type of person to appreciate this film and I don't know many of those people.
Tony Takitani (Issei Ogata), the son of a Jazz musician (also played by Ogata), grows up living a solitary life. From an early age, he learns to care for himself while his Dad is away, touring the far corners of the globe for months, years on end. Tony learns he has the ability to draw, but prefers to be very methodical and precise, so he becomes a mechanical illustrator. A darn good one at that, because he earns a good living. But as an adult, his life is empty; he sees his Dad every two or three years and has no one else in his life, focusing his attention on his work. One day, he meets a young woman, Konuma (Rie Miyazawa) and becomes enamored of her. Despite her objections, they fall in love and marry. But will Tony be happy after all?
Because Tony says little, the film is narrated, providing a sort of guiding poem to Tony's life, giving us occasional clues to his thoughts and feelings. As his world grows, with the addition of a wife, a housekeeper, others, they occasionally finish the narrator's sentences. This is an interesting idea, a partially successful, interesting idea. The narration paints a portrait of Tony's isolation, of his loneliness. Because he rarely speaks, we need a window into his world and the narrator provides that. Every time the narrator returns, we are reminded of this, giving us further evidence of the main character's life.
The narration helps to lend the film a fable quality. We hear "Tony began to cook his dinners for himself at an early age." for instance, as we watch scenes play out. Because someone is describing Tony's life, no matter the obtuse, somewhat poetic descriptions sometimes used, it makes us feel as though we are watching a picture book come to life. This, and the sad, rather unusual nature of his life, helps to make the film seem a little more unusual.
"Tony" has an interesting, visual style. A partially successful, interesting visual style. A majority of the scenes begin with the camera slowly moving across the horizon, from left to right. As the camera moves, we pick up a character and their actions until the camera moves beyond and picks up the next scene, moving from left to right. This technique helps the film seem more fluid, because the camera is always moving. Without this movement, "Tony" would feel very episodic. This camera work also creates a sort of visual poem complimenting the Japanese setting and time.
Unfortunately, the combination of the narration and the slow camera sweeping across every scene serve to make the film seem long. At roughly seventy-five minutes, "Tony" barely qualifies as a feature length movie. Yet, because of these two techniques, it feels as though we are watching an epic length film without any of the 'epic'.
The performances are universally one note but even this sort of fits, no matter how annoying it might be. Because the camera is always moving, it rarely lingers on a scene for long. Essentially, we are watching a series of narrated tableaus illustrating the man's life. Interesting, but not entirely successful either. It would seem unnatural if any character showed a lot of emotion because we are only watching them for a brief period. But staying true to the filmmaker's ideas has created a very unnatural, slow paced film.
A watchable, but nonetheless unnatural and slow paced film.