what follows is an essay i’ve just finished writing on one of my favourite films and the interplay between sight and sound within it. i’ve watched the film about six times this last week alone and made meticulous notes on it’s soundtrack but sadly, this being a 1000 word limited essay, i can’t really go into anywhere near the amount of detail i’d like to.. but anyway, here goes
Tony Takitani was a short story written by Haruki Murakami, first published in The New Yorker in April 2002. Written in Murakami’s signature, almost screenplay-like style, it deals primarily with themes of solitude, loneliness and ultimately – the fine line between the two.
Tony Takitani grows up motherless and to all intents and purposes – via a fractured and distant relationship with Shozaburo – fatherless. At school he is outcasted for his Western name and pursues his love of illustration – an emotionally detached, sterile love of it.
He grows up to become a sought after and wealthy illustrator within the advertising industry. His life is portrayed as solitary and simple, his interactions minimal and his relationships non-existent. Yet this melancholy equilibrium he has accepted as his identity is shattered when he meets and falls in love with a younger woman at his workplace. They eventually marry, his solitude subsides but her fashion addiction ends up killing her and Tony is alone, again- except this time with a haunting awareness of what the warmer alternative is like.
In 2003 Jun Ichikawa adapted Murakami’s story.
Ichikawa began his career as a director in television advertising. While his immersion in that industry enabled him to skillfully compress narrative into short time spans (something which would prove useful on his transition to cinema) he also expressed frustration at its effect on some of his earlier work in film – he considered his cuts “too short and fast”, with “no room [for the audience] to breathe or relax”.
His visual interpretation of Marukami’s text displays not only a solid and sympathetic understanding of the themes raised in it but an implementation of the slower pacing whose absence he lamented in his earlier work. His use of sound and music – both in their presence and absence, elevates the extent to which his interpretation engages the viewer and encourages interaction.
Sets are kept minimal throughout and share a common absence of clutter. In doing so the director is able to emphasise the emotional detachment and simplicity with which Tony Takitani views and experiences his world. Colour palettes are desaturated and cool – stripped of the warmth one would usually imagine in domestic and social surroundings. The consistency of the desaturated imagery present throughout the film serves to remind us that this is just how Tony Takitani’s life is – there is no overwhelming presence of colour which is snatched away, instead just an omnipresent detachment from it, a perpetual state of solitude – even within the less solitary parts of the film.
Tracking shots slowly moving to the right, fading through black, mimicking the progressive narrative style of a storyboard – something which Ichikawa has presumably drawn from his own background and used to immerse the viewer in Tony Takitani’s world – where one un-cluttered, desaturated interaction with life moves seamlessly on to the next.
In terms of Ichikawa’s photography – the overwhelming majority of shots involving people are limited to long shots and medium close ups. He maintains an emotional distance between us and the characters and between the characters themselves. It is during a brief scene in which Tony is getting to know his future wife that the audience sees the only extreme close up of the film. Ichikawa subtly draws attention to this experience being the most intimate and personal of the protagonist’s life, yet even at this pinnacle of emotional connection the camera still only faces the back (occasionally- the side) of her head – the scene is subsequently imbued with a sense of distance and foreboding – that, as lovely as this moment is- it, and the companionship it brings, will not last. This is accentuated hugely by Ryuchi Sakamoto’s recurring minimal piano composition, “solitude”, playing throughout this entire scene. Using predominantly minor progressions and solitary notes he mirrors the protagonist’s melancholy and isolated state. A key theme running throughout Marukami’s original story is Tony Takitani’s inability to escape his own solitude; in collaborating with Sakamoto, Jun Ichikawa has skillfully interpreted this sense of inescapability.
After the death of Tony’s wife, Ichikawa cuts the music that the audience has, by this stage, grown used to. In removing the melodies that have accompanied the protagonist’s solitude throughout the film an even greater sense of loss is achieved – that Tony has lost not just his wife but even the identity he had before meeting her.
A shot of Tony lying fetal, back to camera, in the empty room his wife’s clothes once populated, mirrors his father’s physical and emotional posture whilst imprisoned in solitary confinement (prior to Tony’s birth). Through drawing attention to their shared experience of dire circumstances Ichikawa has caused the protagonist and his estranged father to inadvertently (and somewhat metaphysically) achieve a level of proximity and relationship neither were capable of during their time together.
He sympathetically restores order to the characters’ universe before finally pushing Tony into new equilibrium – in a final scene absent from the original story Ichikawa has Tony ring up the woman he hired (briefly) earlier in the film to wear his dead wife’s clothes and perform chores around the house to ease the pain of her absence. Tony hangs up before the former assistant can answer, but the message is clear – for the first time in his life he is uncomfortable with his own solitude. The film ends with a cut to black and the prolonged reintroduction of Sakamoto’s main theme. Regardless of his future, for now – Tony is once again alone.
Instrumental music, in allowing the listener to contribute their own thought processes and emotions to the composition and not merely dictating a suggested response, can create (and non-invasively serenade) visual landscapes to an extent which lyrical music often cannot. Conversely, film, in it’s purest form- as silent moving image, is capable of conveying narrative at times more effectively than it’s spoken counterpart.
Lyrics and dialogue, as conducive to an audience’s engagement with a story as they can admittedly be, can also be just as obstructive; what is spoken can often diminish (or, at worst- negate) the impact of that which would be best left un-said. Endless as it’s narrative is, life (alongside much of the art inspired by it) doesn’t require perpetual narration. The most engaging and emotive stories are those which allow an audience to contribute their own story to a narrative without weakening or diluting the actual story being told. In his adaptation of Tony Takitani, and through his sensitive inclusion and exclusion of aural and visual information, Ichikawa fully affirms this.