tirsdag, juli 18, 2006

Shopping with Tony Takitani

The other night I watched the 75-minute Japanese film Tony Takitani, an adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami (whose novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is awesome). The film was a much-welcomed recovery from having recently subjected myself to the fiercely poor cinematic version of John LeCarre’s Tailor of Panama.

Of Takitani, I’ve many good things to say, and I think the film is a must-see for anyone who enjoys shoes, clothes, shopping, etc. Just as there is an entire sensuous food film genre, including gems such as Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, perhaps a sensuous shoe-and-clothes-shopping genre has been born. More on that in a moment.

A quick note on Panama: At the open, they show the tailor, played by Geoffrey Rush (who speaks in a nearly inaudible whisper throughout the whole film) marking fabric for a suit coat. Yes, it’s an intricate process. Yes, the markings are totally senseless to those outside the trade. And, yes, the director wanted to show this intricate work but knew he had only a short segment (the credits) in which to do so. What device does he employ to show the progress? Not gentle, forward-in-time edits. Not a montage. No, he makes the disastrous decision to speed up the film, as if we’re watching a Charlie Chaplan piece. He makes a live-action cartoon of the process, missing only the player piano music. Am I to take anything seriously from this point forward? Impossible. Tailor of Panama, you rot.

Takitani, however, is engrossing. At least to me. I don’t mind slowly paced films. (Russian Ark—a single-take 90-minute film—is one of my favorites.) And Takitani is slow. In fact, it lacks a conventional film approach to storytelling, making it something of an evil trifecta for many movie viewers: it has subtitles, is slow, and doesn't rely on conventional scene-action structure.

Instead of relying of traditional scenes, a good 80 percent of the film is either voiceover narrative (perhaps read directly from Murakami's story) or silence. Pans move from one room to the next, taking us through time as much as location. Sometimes even the characters complete the narrator’s sentence, which adds a strange, world-weary hindsight aspect, as characters living in their present tense seem to reach forward into their futures, pull from it an objective comment on the life they’d lived, and out it comes from their mouths back in that present tense. It seems to daze them.

The basic story is of a graphic artist (Tony Takitani) who spends most of his time alone. Finally, he meets someone he really wants to be with. She’s 15 years younger. He lives fairly spare. She’s addicted to shopping. They get married. His wife keeps shopping. It worries both of them. She says she does it to fill something inside her, but can't say what; this is paralleled by the isolation Takitani prefers, though he can't define its draw either. She buys all designer stuff. They have to convert an entire room to a closet for her. One day, she’s killed in an accident. The man’s devastated. The clothes, rarely worn by her, are left as the symbol of his wife. He hires a woman who matches his wife’s body description to come to the house and put on her clothes.

Later in life, alone and depressed and having rid himself of all the clothes, the man recalls not his dead wife but the young woman who he'd hired.

The clothing scenes are really well done. This is totally not the cheesy, synthesizer-driven "What should I wear?" montages of 1980s' films (though I've a fondness for those cornball sequences). What seems like a three-minute sequence passes in which we see little but his wife’s feet entering and leaving stores, climbing stairs, walking along city sidewalks. You see changes of shoes. (Some pretty smokin' black boots at one point.) You see different shopping bags and skirt edges. On it goes.

At points, you see the room they’ve designed to hold everything she buys. It looks like a store. And it is in there that, in the wake of the wife’s death, the hired woman has a small breakdown on the day she’s being hired. It follows the silence of a two or three minute sequence in which the young woman is trying on coats. No edits. It’s a static shot of the woman dwarfed by so much stuff she’s never been able to afford, probably never even tried on just for the feel of it. She slumps to her knees, crying.

When Takitani asks what’s wrong, the woman does not say anything about Takitani’s wife. Rather, she says that she’d never seen so many nice clothes in one place.

It isn’t an insensitive moment, though. The film does not condemn any character. It acknowledges a sensuousness in new clothes, new boots, etc. It grants Takitani’s jazz musician father his free-spirited, wayward life. It’s kind to Takitani’s self-imposed isolation. All of these things define and liberate these characters; and all of these things set barriers for them. It’s just that something far more inward is always baying. And quelling that has to do as much with self-acceptance as acceptance of others. It has to do more perhaps with creating a different life between two people, a shadowy figure who handles the translations and diplomacy, who hammers out the agreements, who stands for the connection but can never be either person.

Friendship, marriage, family, professional relationships: the inner distance is always the same.

I really wish the film was longer. I wish more was done with the woman who was hired to wear the wife’s clothes. That plotline crashes out abruptly, most likely to stay true to the written story, but Murakami has a nasty habit of woefully underwriting (save for Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; it's almost a shame he's written anything else). But for a film, it really could have been lovely.

If you ever take in food films, or you ever enjoy shopping (particularly for shoes, I think), give Tony Takitani a viewing.
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