I’m normally not the biggest fan of movies conceived as tone poems, but Tony Takitani is a rare exception. It’s a quiet dream of a movie, a vision of loneliness giving way to love, then to loneliness again; it’s like Vertigo remade in a sedately haunted style of Japanese lyricism.
Adapting a short story by Haruki Murakami, the director, Jun Ichikawa, has evolved a technique, a mood, of visual meditation that’s at once literary and startlingly cinematic. For much of the film’s 75 minutes, Ichikawa moves his camera slowly, almost imperceptibly, from left to right, tracking like a voyeur through key moments in the life of Tony Takitani (Issey Ogata), a pensive illustrator who has drifted into middle age without a lasting human connection.
As Ryuichi Sakamoto’s lilting piano chords caress our eardrums, Tony, with his unusual gaze of silent sadness (he suggests a morose Jackie Chan crossed with Tommy Hilfiger), meets Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), who is sweet and beautiful and 15 years his junior. He embraces her as a path out of his isolation, and the movie becomes a vision of contentment. There’s one issue, though, with Tony’s object of affection: She’s obsessed, to the point of addiction, with shopping for designer clothes. That sounds like a joke, a caricature of marital foible, yet as it balloons, with a nearly psychic sense of fate, into romantic tragedy, Tony becomes every man who ever killed his chance for love without knowing that he was doing it.