Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tony Takatani

This movie shoulda been a slam dunk for me. It had all the elements in place. It's based on a short story by one of my favorite authors. The story itself was intriguing. It's set in modern day Japan. The visuals all look great. Yet I hated it.

Tony Takatani tells the story of a man who had lived an ordinary and lonely life. He was extremely proficient at mechanical drawings, but he never really understood the abstract. It could be said, probably that he was an empirical thinker and thus had never fallen in love either.In the beginning of the film we learn his family situation, and that is supposed to give us a brief background on the man that we meet at age 40 something after the opening credits. To move the story along Tony eventually sees a woman and falls in love. The love affair unfortunately ends tragically after Tony attempts to confront her on her addiction to purhasing clothes, something that was mentioned all the way back at the beginning of the relationship. After the tragic ending Tony deals with his memories in a unique way, and the ending of the story is even interesting. Still, I was gritting my teeth through this.

In the first five minutes of the film, before opening credits, when we are getting background on Tony's childhood there is a voice-over narration. This did not seem out of the ordinary for me. But it did become impossibly grating when the voice-over narration continued throughout the 75 minute film. There were unique storytelling devices like the characters on screen finishing the sentences of the narrator, which only amplified my frustration. It almost felt demeaning to me. As if I, the viewer, needed my hand held and walked through the story to understand what was going on. From what I understand this sort of narration is what turned people off to Little Children when it came out in theaters last year. I have not seen the film, but I can imagine why that would be grating now after watching this last night.

There are numerous literary adaptations of great stories where this sort of device is not used. Haruki Murakami is an author that seems to always throw his characters into an existential crisis of some sort, so maybe it's possible that the screenwriter here felt that the nararator was needed to explain these moments. My biggest frustration was the film was so beautifully shot and paced, that it wasn't needed. The pauses, the city landscapes, the isolation and the mise en scene that Ichikawa created here got the story across without the need of these voice overs. I said to my roomate, it almost could have even worked as a silent film. Though, that was likely overstated due to my frustration.

Should another Murakami story be adapted for the screen I will likely see it, but this first experience didn't hold up to expectations.


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