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Tony Takitani
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Rie Miyazawa and Issei Ogata in Tony Takitani.

Year: 2004
Director: Jun Ichikawa
Producer: Motoki Ishida
Cast: Issei Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima (narrator), Shinohara Takahumi
The Skinny: Jun Ichikawa's quirky, minimalist film adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story deals with the themes of isolation, loss, and loneliness - effectively translating Murakami's style to the big screen. Generally, fans of Murakami should be pleased, but viewers unaccustomed to this sort of story may be left scratching their heads.
by Kozo:

     As the story goes, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami ventured into a Maui thrift shop many years ago and, for the lump sum of one dollar, he purchased a secondhand T-shirt with the name "Tony Takitani" emblazoned across the chest. While the real life Tony Takitani created the promotional tee as a part of his failed campaign for a state Senate seat, the famous author instead found inspiration in the name. In an interview with The Daily Yomiuiri, Murakami said, "Every time I put on the T-shirt, I felt like this Tony Takitani was begging me to write a story about him." And eventually, that's exactly what Murakami did. American readers would see the English translation of "Tony Takitani" published in the pages of the New Yorker in 2002, and now some three years later, they are getting a chance to view Jun Ichikawa's inspired 2004 film adaptation thanks to a North American theatrical release.
     Veteran actor Issei Ogata (Yi Yi) takes on dual roles as the title character and his jazz musician father, Shozaburo. The initial section of the film charts Tony Takitani's lonely childhood: his mother died not long after he was born, and his father's jazz pursuits often kept him away from home. It seems Tony was named in honor of an American military friend of Shozaburo's with the intention that the more Western-sounding moniker would be an asset due to the United States' increasing influence in Japan. But instead, the name marks him as suspicious, even strange, and only further disconnects him from his classmates. As he grows older, Tony becomes interested in art and does quite well, although his work is often criticized for its lack of emotional content. He's technically superior, but something is definitely lacking.
     Rie Miyazawa (The Twilight Samurai, Peony Pavillion) soon enters the film, portraying Eiko, a beautiful woman with a smart sense of style and a secret obsession. Eventually, the two get married, and Tony finally recognizes what his life has been missing all these years. Soon, he begins to fear what would happen if he ever lost his beloved Eiko. And that's when things start to take a turn for the worse. As their marriage progresses, Eiko's obsession with purchasing designer clothes on a daily basis begins to trouble Tony. He raises the issue tactfully, and she promises to amend her shopaholic ways, but finds that going cold turkey isn't as easy as she'd hoped. It's then that the film takes a tragic turn, as Tony is left alone with nothing but a roomful of designer clothing. These tangible "ghosts" haunt him, constantly reminding him of his wife's troubling absence.
     To adjust to his new life, Tony places an ad searching for an assistant, but with one caveat: she must be a certain size. In desperate need of money, a young woman named Hisako (also played by Rie Miyazawa) answers the call for this high-paying job. However, she soon learns that Tony wants her to wear his wife's old clothes as if it were a work uniform - he swears he has nothing sexual in mind; he simply wants to come to terms with his wife's departure. Will Hisako take the job despite Tony's strange demands? And will Tony be able to survive the grieving process? Those questions are answered by story's end, albeit not in any way that could be considered even remotely conventional or predictable.
     In terms of tone, style, and execution, Tony Takitani is most assuredly an "art film" in the broadest sense of the term. While a fan may laud the movie for its languid pace, elliptic style, and ambiguous ending, it's easy to see how a detractor could easily turn these compliments into ample fodder for complaints. For some, the film will be too slow, too vague, and perhaps too boring for a recommendation. Yet for those who are willing to dial back their preconceived notions of what a film should be, Tony Takitani will be a memorable, if not enjoyable, cinematic experience. Director Jun Ichikawa gives the audience a lot to digest, and thus, it's the kind of movie that's likely to benefit from a second or even a third viewing.
     The two actors are impressive in their respective roles. In fact, they are so good that theatergoers unfamiliar with both Ogata and Miyazawa might not pick up on the fact that each actor is playing two different characters. As the anchor of the film, Issei Ogata does well in portraying Murakami's decent, yet supremely reticent protagonist. The only misstep seems to be the director's insistence that the fifty-something Ogata portray Tony (complete with a long-haired wig) during the "college years" segment early on. While brief, the sequence is somewhat laughable considering Ogata obvious age amidst the much younger actors. Rie Miyazawa is a welcome presence in the film. Each time she appears onscreen (as either character), she livens up the proceedings considerably, much in the way her character Eiko positively affects Tony Takitani.
     In replicating Murakami's style for the big screen, Jun Ichikawa experiments with several offbeat techniques. To mimic the Murakami short story, Ichikawa employs some low key narration by Hidetomi Nishijima that creates a sense of distance from the events as they occur, giving the film an almost fable-like quality. Yet even as this "distance" exists, at certain key moments, this voice-over intertwines with the dialogue of the actual characters, as they recite the narrator's words as if it were their own, and he speaks their lines as well. This breakdown of perspective is a quirky move that gives the film some personality, but admittedly, for some, it will seem like little more than an interesting gimmick.
     Another obvious touch by the director is Ichikawa's decision to have the camera constantly pan to the right in many scenes, particularly the ones detailing Tony's formative years. In this way, characters will slowly emerge out of the right side of the frame only to disappear as the camera scans past them into the "wall," which then allows the director to cut to the next scene as if it were shot in the next room. However, it is by no means a literal room next door because it usually contains the same characters, but the events are occurring at some later date. In some cases, this continual camera movement works because it creates a certain kind of tension in what we are seeing. It is almost as if we are overhearing a conversation or being exposed to just a snippet of someone's life. The sense of anticipation grows because the moment seems fleeting-we know exactly when the scene will be over, thus, what we "need to know" from the movie is contained in that one pass of the camera. This technique also creates the illusion of momentum and progress, which sometimes helps the film's pacing. Tony Takitani is only 75 minutes long, but at times, its leisurely-paced attitude toward its narrative often makes the film seem longer than it is. But even as the framing of the film helps offset pacing issues, there's a downside to this stylistic choice. As the movie wears on, Ichikawa's usage of this technique becomes much more obvious, and the audience soon becomes more aware of what the camera is doing than what it is revealing. In this way, Ichikawa runs the risk of reducing this stylistic choice to little more than a curious novelty. But if anything, these quirks give Tony Takitani the sense that it was crafted - and not by some work-for-hire director, but an actual filmmaker with his own unique creative vision and stylistic hallmarks. So from that perspective, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
     But the film isn't all about technique and style, there's a real movie to be seen here. And while certainly compelling, it should be said that Tony Takitani is by no means the feel good movie of the year. This is a picture preoccupied with feelings of detachment, isolation, and loneliness. And thus, it may leave some viewers cold. Tony Takitani celebrates love, yet in the tradition of almost every Wong Kar-Wai movie ever made, love is shown also to be something that can be debilitating, even destructive, especially when one is separated from the object of his or her affection. The metaphor of Eiko's clothes as ghosts evokes a discussion of the power of memory. Ghosts, like certain painful memories, seem to haunt us for the longest time. But as the movie explores, what happens when we finally exorcise those ghosts for good? Will we feel better or somehow worse? So haunting is Tony Takitani, that once you've seen it, the memory of it will stay with you, whether you like it or not. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)

Notes: • Soundtrack composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto

Locarno International Film Festival
Winner - FIPRESCI Prize
Winner - Special Prize of the Jury
Winner - Youth Jury Award [Second Place]
Nomination - Golden Leopard
Sundance Film Festival
Nomination - Grand Jury Prize

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Geneon Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
8-page booklet included Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen