Based on a short story by acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase), this minimalist meditation on loneliness and loss is so spare and drained of color that it seems always on the verge of fading into invisibility and makes one wonder whether it actually is better to have loved and lost than never to have...read more
Based on a short story by acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase), this minimalist meditation on loneliness and loss is so spare and drained of color that it seems always on the verge of fading into invisibility and makes one wonder whether it actually is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Born shortly after World War II, Tony Takitani (Issey Ogata), an only child whose mother died three days after he was born, grew up alone. Tony's father, jazz trombonist Shozaburo Takitani (Ogata again), traveled frequently; classmates mocked his Westernized first name, which Shozaburo chose on a whim; and Tony kept the housekeepers hired to clean and cook at arm's length. He discovered a knack for drawing, but his work was consistently judged skillful yet lacking artistic soul. As Tony approaches solitary middle age, he has a steady career in precision technical drawing, few friends and few wants — he lives austerely and buys little other than art supplies. Then he falls in love with and marries Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), a pretty, stylish woman 15 years his junior. No one is more surprised than Tony, and love transforms him, not outwardly but from within. His father's music sounds more vivid and the aching loneliness that seemed as natural as the air vanishes. But Tony's new feelings actually make his life more painful; emptiness is replaced by icy terror, because he now has something worth losing. Eiko isn't particularly introspective, but she too is haunted by a fundamental emptiness that she assuages by shopping. Though Eiko's chic, beautifully coordinated clothes first brought her to Tony's notice, he asks her to scale back her addiction to luxury items; the consequences are tragic. Director Jun Ichikawa uses much of Murakami's prose as voice-over narration, putting one more layer of distance between the viewer and the enigmatic characters. Though the film runs a scant 73 minutes, its pacing is deliberate and the shifts in emotional temperature so subtle that only surrender to Ichikawa's dreamlike tone and images makes them apparent. Though informed by the social changes brought about by Japan's post-WWII reconstruction, especially the displacement of traditional family and community ties by Western-style consumerism, this lovely and piercingly sad film is rooted in a free-floating malaise that's endemic to fast-paced, materially oriented cultures throughout the industrialized, urban world.
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