Better to have loved and lost?
“Deliberate” is the word that first springs to mind. Every single action in “Toni Takitani,” every movement of the camera, every homage, is deliberate. There are no mistakes here, no improvisations, and no wasted moments. A short film, only 75 minutes, director Ichikawa Jun has made sure that he has absolute control over every second of screen time, and so he tells his tale of loneliness.
Adapted from a short story by Murakami Haruki (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel), Toni Takitani is a lonely man who doesn’t realize he is lonely. Brought up by a distant father, he learned from a young age to live an isolated life, like a monk is a distant hermitage. He is self-contained. Until one day, a quiet young girl, fifteen years his junior, comes into his life and fills the emptiness he never knew was there. For the first time in his life, he knows happiness, as well as the fear of that happiness being taken away.
This story is old school Japanese storytelling. One can see echoes here from Soseki`s Kokoro and Kawabata’s Snow Country. A quiet piece with almost no dialog, much of the story plays out in the unspoken, in the silence between notes. Director Ichikawa has intentionally blended modern camera work with Ozu’s (Tokyo Story) classic “tatami-mat level camera” which was thought to capture the “Japanese eye.” He also makes heavy use of the trope of the benshi, the narrator. When film first came to Japan, there were no translations or subtitles so a narrator would stand by the screen and interpret the film for the audience. Many older directors, such as Ozu and Kurosawa Akira, grew up on this style of film-watching and incorporated it into their own works.
The actors also do an outstanding job in “Toni Takitani”. Ogata Issei (The Sun) takes on the dual-role of both Toni Takitani and his jazz-musician father Takitani Shozaburo. So complete was his transformation that I did not realize this was the same actor until the credits had rolled. Miyazawa Rie (The Twilight Samurai) is equally perfect in the dual roles of Konuma Eiko, Toni’s clothes-obsessed wife, and Hisako, the girl he tries to hire to replace her.
“Toni Takitani” is the only Ichikawa Jun film to get a US release, to the best of my knowledge. He is definitely a director to watch out for, and I will be keeping an eye out for any future releases.