November 28, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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When Chris at Cornell Cinema gave me the previews for this week’s attractions, he warned me that it would be a stretch to find a central theme between a minimalist, Japanese drama and a pseudo – documentary film based on one family’s road trip. However I was surprised to find how well both films, The Talent Given Us and Tony Takitani both effectively explore the effects of family, the human need for love and attention and the effect that it has on all of us.

The Talent Given Us (2004)

Allen and Judy Wagner, both 70 – something retirees living in New York, seem to be slowing down and becoming slowly frustrated with their aging bodies. Allen’s slurred speech from a slight stroke never manages to hide his keen intelligence that is paired by his wife’s wit. When the couple’s two actress – daughters are visiting, Judy makes a split-second decision to pack the family up in the mini – van and head towards Los Angeles to visit their screenwriter son, Andrew who has apparently become distanced from his parents over the years.

It’s important to realize that all the actors, even Mr. and Mrs. Wagner, all play themselves or very close versions to themselves. With Andrew behind the camera, the family explores incredibly sensitive subjects ranging from depression, adultery, issues from their childhood or just simply what it means to be a member of the family. The film’s personal nature but simultaneous willingness to venture into a little fiction for the sake of artistic originality immediately gave me reminders of Charlie Kaufmann’s Adaptation. However, it is important to remember that The Talent Given Us is much less refined and becomes even more believable in its appearance as a documentary.

While the film explores very sensitive subjects, it always maintains an air of comedy and light – heartedness. The loveably – dysfunctional and kibitzing Wagners have more uncomfortable and, at the same time, hilarious moments along their trip than the time on my own family vacation when my father almost got arrested for turnstile jumping on the Philadelphia subway (no kidding, but I digress!) An incredibly fresh and bold new film, The Talent Given Us is an incredibly promising film.

Tony Takitani (2004)

Emulating a poem more than any other film I have had the pleasure to watch, director Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani is a soft, patient and beautiful example of minimalist cinema that proves that sometimes film is the most powerful when there is the least there. The film is even minimalist in its adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same title. Ichikawa wisely compacts the first part of the short story, mainly concerning Tony’s jazz – playing father during the World War II years, into a wonderful introduction of aged – still photographs.

The film bases its plot mainly around the protagonist Tony (Issei Ogata), who through an isolated childhood has become comfortable with his sparse life devoid of human contact. A machine-illustrator who has achieved success, Tony actually at the high point of his career never has seemed to be lacking more. Only when a beautiful client, fifteen years his junior named Eiko (Rie Miyazawa) walks into his office does Tony realize how lonely he is.

After a somewhat unusual courtship, Tony and Eiko marry and enter a new life together. However when Eiko’s addiction to compulsive shopping leads to Tony’s disapproval simultaneously occurring with her untimely death, our protagonist is once again plunged into loneliness, however he is very much aware of the great void in his life the second time around. As a result, Tony makes efforts to hold on to Eiko’s memory, going so far as to embark on a Vertigo-esque plan to recreate his wife.

Lyrical and beautiful, the visual poetry of Tony Takitani is as constant as the steady left-to-right camera movement of Ichikawa. A gifted and rich film, Tony Takitani is one of this year’s best cinematic imports.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor