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Review: Tony Takitani

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New Yorker darling Murakami Haruki is often touted as the voice of Japan’s post-war, post-modern generation — his jazz-inflected narratives and sense of melancholy absurdity strike a chord with readers at home and abroad. Director Ichikawa Jun’s adaptation of the writer’s short story “Tony Takitani” sustains the Murakami mood, chronicling lost love through a soundtrack of diminished minor-key piano chords and shots of actors dwarfed by vast urban ugliness. An omniscient narrator broods through the film, only occasionally interrupted by actors who finish his sentences, or speak of themselves in the third person.

    Tony Takitani (Ogata Issey) is a familiar Japanese protagonist — the illustrator’s lack of emotional affect is the only thing that keeps his loneliness in check. His isolation fades when he marries Eiko (Miyazawa Rie), who seems perfect but for a consuming obsession for buying clothes. “They fill up what’s missing inside me,” she says, with a tragic pertness. The line is particularly poignant considering Ichikawa’s casting choice: Miyazawa became a national obsession after she plunged to Calista Flockheart-esque realms of thinness (from which, perhaps, she hasn’t fully recovered) following a very public, failed romance.

    Despite its beautifully spare aesthetic, the monochromatic tone of Ichikawa’s film ultimately detracts from its characters’ subdued despair. “I don’t feel any warmth from that,” says a fellow artist, looking at one of Takitani’s drawings, expertly posed, in immaculate detail. Just as for the film itself, a little more warmth would have heightened its sense of loss. — Noy Thrupkaew

Review: The Three Rooms of Melancholia
Remember the war in Chechnya? It may still be raging, but the world seems to have forgotten about it. Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo’s documentary also may be in danger of being ignored. Not only because it centers around the Chechnya conflict — so not sexy when we’ve got Iraq to worry about — but also because it has a title that promises a gloomy time at the movies. I wish I could say that’s not true, that this is some kind of joyous affirmation of the human spirit. But no — The Three Rooms of Melancholia is probably the most depressing film you’ll see this year. It’s also, as luck would have it, a masterpiece.

    Honkasalo’s film follows the children whose lives have been destroyed by the war: The Muslim orphans in the ravaged cities of Chechnya, as well as the Russian orphans who are being trained as cadets to fight the next wave of the war. However, don’t expect another sentimental “But what about the children?!?” style piece of cinematic do-gooderism. Honkasalo takes an Olympian approach to her material — her meditative, visually refined style relies on impressions, sights and sounds to give us a sense of this war’s tragedy. Watching the young Russian cadets of Kronstadt island being trained for imminent war, as well as watching Muslim orphans being inducted into a particularly virulent brand of Islam, we are hypnotized. The trauma of war makes manipulation a cinch, especially when its victims aren’t even teenagers.

    Honkasalo understands that witnessing the process by which these lost souls find purpose to their lives — however monstrous that purpose may be — is crucial to understanding the nature of conflict. For all her aestheticism, she never loses the emotional context of this story. Although it’s the farthest thing from a standard documentary, The Three Rooms of Melancholia is still devastating, essential viewing for anyone curious about how wars spiral on endlessly. — Bilge Ebiri
Date DVD #43: Errol Morris Film Collection and Avant Garde Experimental China from the 1920s and ’30s
If you’re lucky enough to have a rendezvous with a sexy librarian, then you should plan your DVD date around a nerdy weekend-long film fest with two important new box sets. Begin with the two-disc Avant Garde Experiemental China from the 1920s and ’30s, a brilliant set from Kino Video that rounds up restored titles from Sergei Eisenstein, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Strand, along with Orson Welles’ first film The Hearts of Age to Man Ray’s dark and odd Mysteres du Chateau du dé.

    And if that’s not enough, clean your bespectacled lover’s glasses so he or she can see all of the Errol Morris Film Collection. This long-overdue set includes his first three films: Vernon, Florida (an oddball study of a small-town’s oddballs), The Thin Blue Line (a historic intervention into a wrongful murder-conviction in Texas), and his 1978 debut Gates of Heaven (an irresistible, carnival-mirror look at the pet cemetary business). The documentary’s a bit of a freakshow, but not too much of one, for it also plays as a sympathetic portrait of proprietor Floyd McClure, an earnest pet lover whose poor dog and childhood companion was run over by a Model A Ford. And though you get the sense that Morris is sometimes sniggering behind the camera as he marvels at the bumpkins, it doesn’t keep you from feeling moved by them.

    Morris isn’t for everyone, but he’s definitely a must for true nerds. So if your date doesn’t go for him, at least you know that you need to keep looking for someone to fulfill your four-eyed fantasy. — Logan Hill



 
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