Text by Audrey Kho
“Loneliness is like a prison; that’s how Tony saw it.”
On March 16, the Haruki Murakami Festival in Manila, organized by the Japan Foundation, brought Murakami films to the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. The UP Film Institute held a free screening of Tony Takitani, the first full-length adaptation of a Murakami story.
Tony Takitani is a quiet, enchanting film about the pangs of loneliness and coping with grief. Adapted from the similarly-named novel of acclaimed writer Haruki Murakami, the film delicately touches on the emptiness that comes with being alone, filled with slow-panning scenes and haunting, evocative piano music. It is a subtle, beautiful translation of Murakami’s writing style to the film medium, a movie that is the epitome of minimalism and simplicity, but still leaves viewers curiously satisfied at the end.
The film tells the story of Tony Takitani, a reclusive technical illustrator who has lived most of his life alone. Early on, he was unable to meaningfully connect with anyone around him, resulting in a withdrawn, antisocial disposition that echoed in the art he drew and in the way he lived his life.
Being alone was the most natural thing for Tony, until the young, beautiful Konuma Eiko showed him what it was like not to be. Though Tony was fifteen years her senior, they happily got married. There was but one hiccup: Eiko’s all-consuming obsession with clothes.
Fans of Murakami’s books will be pleased to know that the film is utterly faithful to the book, as it captured the essence and the feeling of the story, the characters and the overall aesthetic of the tragic tale.
Narrated by Hidetoshi Nishijima’s captivating voice, the film played out like a love poem to loneliness, much like Murakami’s lyrical writing style. Enjoined with the aesthetics of the film, the camera movement, and the raw, truthful performances from the cast, Tony Takitani presents us the full package of a film one would like to delve deep into, and surface with an aching but content heart.
Terrifying loneliness and the pains of grief
The film presents a realistic account of grief and loneliness one can feel throughout his life. For a plot centered largely on losing a loved one which could have easily turned into a cliche drama, the film balanced equal parts true-to-life and daydream aesthetic.
Helped by the poetic narration of the story, the plot moved unhurried, succeeding in telling a story that developed such as life usually unfolds: day by day, slowly, unrushed. Though realistic, the pace of the film added a daydream-like quality that made viewers feel as if they were floating through someone else’s life just watching from the sidelines.
However, note that one would need some degree of patience to get through this movie, because it really does develop quite slowly. Camera positioning and movement were very consistent, had little variation, and were taken from angles that suggest viewers were watching the plot unfold from afar, panning ever so slowly to the right to signify the passage of time. The reality of the plot and the rawness of the film’s emotion, however, is worth the relatively slow pace of the film.
The score of the film was the golden nugget in the center of the otherwise washed-out colors of the movie. It was largely comprised of slow, melancholic piano music that, though quiet and subtle, added to the magnitude of loneliness the characters felt. The music was sad all throughout, helping to key in that the film was meant to make viewers feel the same way.
Equally important as the score were the moments of silence. Some scenes were entirely silent but were just as heart wrenching, proving that one does not need to do much to say a lot.
Last, but not the least, the performances from the cast did not fall short of stellar. Issei Ogata, who plays Tony Takitani, adapts this stoic expression for Tony that was so convincing, it becomes alarming to finally see him smile around Eiko’s presence. Ogata also plays Tony’s father, Takitani Shozaburo, and there is such a striking difference between the emotionless Tony and the happy-go-lucky Shozaburo it takes a while to realize they are played by the same person. Rie Miyazawa as Konuma Eiko was less awe-inspiring than Ogata, but her subtle facial expressions and body language created a hauntingly beautiful character one could simply not forget. Their extraordinary performances created characters so grounded and layered, that one could not help but empathize with them throughout the film.
As a love story, Tony Takitani does not exactly qualify as realistic; however, as an account of loneliness and grief, it is one of the most realistic films out there. Director Jun Ichikawa has blessed the world with a truly haunting account of what it is to be alone, a film that renders a viewer aching for more while simultaneously content with the outcome. After all, life doesn’t really have endings nor beginnings – it simply continues to unfold, unhurried.