"Tony Takitani" is an unusually lovely film about a man struggling with loneliness. It's just 75 minutes long and has only a few characters. There is very little dialogue. The musical score consists of a piano playing an evocative, haunting theme. In terms of achieving the mood it's aiming for, it's one of the most effective movies I've ever seen.
The title character (played by Issei Ogata) is the son of a jazz musician who spends most of his time touring. Tony's mother died when he was an infant, so Tony learned to be alone throughout his early life. Now, as an adult -- first an art student, then a successful commercial illustrator -- he is alone but does not consider himself lonely. It's his natural state of being.
Then he meets Eiko (Rie Miyazawa), a beautiful woman 15 years his junior with a passion for clothing and style. He proposes marriage, and while she is considering her answer, he realizes for the first time in his life that he is lonely. He can't imagine what he'll do if she says no. She says yes, and he spends the first few months of their marriage being terrified that something will happen and to make him be alone again.
The story takes a turn then (I won't say how), and loneliness is re-introduced into Tony's life. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami and directed by Jun Ichikawa, the film has very little dialogue and is instead mostly narrated (by Hidetoshi Nishijima). Sometimes the characters narrate the story themselves, in the scenes, referring to themselves in the third person. All of this gives the story a mythical, fabulous (as in, pertaining to fables) quality.
As I said, the combination of simple, plaintive music, dialed-down performances and sparse dialogue gives the film an incredibly moody, contemplative feel. In addition, the color palate is limited to drab, earthy hues. Often the walls, the furniture and the characters are all about the same tone, blending into each other as though they were all part of the scenery.
The film is light on story and characterization, heavy on mood. It's a serene experience, letting the film wash over you and transport you into its isolated, melancholy little world. It is not transcendent storytelling, but it is effective.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is good, but not great. It's a little muddy in places, and just not as sharp as it ought to be. The muted colors of the film appear slightly more muted than they did in the theatrical release.
There are optional English subtitles.
AUDIO: The film is in Japanese (with subtitles available), and no other dialogue tracks. It is Dolby 2.0 Stereo and it sounds perfectly crisp, the way it should.
EXTRAS: The film's theatrical trailer and trailers for other Strand releases is all you get. Tony's a lonely guy, and so is his DVD.
It's not for everyone, perhaps, but it's a fine, evocative little movie whose quietude is just as effective on repeat viewings. It's a shame the DVD release doesn't have more to offer.