Last night I saw Jun Ichikawa's film of Haruki Murakami's novel Tony Takitani, starring the excellent theatre actor Issey Ogata. Tony Takitani is a lonely man whose wife—a woman pathologically addicted to shopping for expensive clothes—dies in a car crash. Tony spends the rest of the film haunting her enormous clothes closet, sniffing her furs, and paying other women to dress up in the dead woman's clothes. Eventually he sells the clothes and fills the space with jazz instruments he inherits when his boho trombone-playing father dies. This is significant, because the narrative tells us that Takitani's lifelong solitude has been partly the result of his jazzer father giving him the anglophile name "Tony", which set him apart from other people.
Now, the film was undoubtedly beautiful. The director also shoots TV commercials, and the control of colour and editing was commercial-slick: the film observed the rules of what one might call "depressive-aesthetic Japanese chromophobia", registering a subtle range of greys, greens and off-whites. Ichikawa scrolled his camera past the action in subtle but virtuoso pans which contained hidden edits linking one scene with another; a close-up of the stretching feet of the beautiful wife washing her car, for instance, panned under the car and directly into the scene of the accident that kills her. The wife's shopping trips to expensive boutiques are treated with similar abstraction, the camera panning across brushed stainless steel staircases, glassy windows, rows and rows of grey or white clothes. All this is further aestheticized by Ryuichi Sakamoto's score, a "Back-To-Basics"-style Satie-esque piano melody fed through "Music For Airports"-style reverbs. The music is used way too much in the early part of the film, hammering home spurious poignancy like some sort of delicate bludgeon.
After we left the film Hisae and I agreed that it hadn't been much fun. Ogata is a great actor, but his role here could almost have been played by Korean heart-throb Yon-Sama at his most gushingly melodramatic, or by Smap spoofing Yon-Sama. Takitani's bereavement wasn't particularly moving, because his brief happy marriage never looked like anything more than a rather sensitively-shot TV commercial anyway.
Things I did like in the movie, though, were (and this always seems to be the case) incidentals. A shot of the wind stirring the leaves and branches of a tree. Shots of Yokohama seen through windows. Fleeting expressions of ambivalence passing across Ogata's face as he sketches with a pencil (he's a successful animator by trade). The sound of the pencil on the pad. The film's "Japaneseness", invested in a desurgent melancholia, the poetry of everyday life, a certain understatement and introversion (the characters never seem to look at each other or talk directly to each other). Pale blues, pale greens, pale greys. Ogata's bowl haircut, which somehow guarantees his essential trustworthiness. The complete absence of the idiotic impacts and normative aggression seen in all the trailers which preceded the film.
Tony Takitani is a "beautiful film", but its beauty is a bit superficial and suspicious in my eyes. Beauty here is something easily specified, a known quantity, a cliche. Sakamoto's piano score is sugary and falls just the wrong side of "trite" (his record with Noto hits some of the same notes but falls just the right side of trite thanks to Carsten Nicolai's frigid, estranging sine waves).
I want, today, to say something quite simple about beauty: that beauty is elusive and evanescent. It pops up in unexpected places, rather than being specified by pushing all the usual "beauty buttons". Sakamoto's Satie melodies and long reverbs in Tony Takitani are "beauty buttons" — finally irritating candy floss and not beautiful at all. Before we went to Kino Intimes to see Tony Takitani, Hisae and I went to record store Dense and bought a DVD of Chris Cunningham's new film Rubber Johnny. Six minutes long and shot entirely in nightvision, Rubber Johnny is the tale of a grotesque mutant with an encephalic head and a terrified pet chihuahua. All that happens in the film is that a man shouts an insult into Johnny's lair and the creature does a horrific-absurdist breakdance, splitting into a pile of guts, snorting a line of coke, and reassembling into the deformed, crippled mutant he began as. The film's special effects—unidentifiable body parts made with a mixture of prosthetics and Photoshop—are so disturbing that the manager of the Italian printshop charged with making the lavish DVD brochure balked, refusing to expose his hardened, sweaty, swearing (but Catholic) printworkers to such filth. He obviously wouldn't agree with Rilke, who in The Duino Elegies said:
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
And we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.