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January 17, 2006

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

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Tony Takitani
Jun Ichikawa - 2004
Strand Releasing Region 1 DVD

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Kamikaze Girls/Shimotsuma Monogatari
Tetsuya Nakashima - 2004
Viz Media Region 1 DVD

I've only read two novels and a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. The short story Tony Takitani is similar in being the first person narrative of a man alone, although the short story is more downbeat and firmly rooted in the real world. Jun Ichikawa's film slightly expands upon Murakami's short story in the conclusion while condensing some parts of the beginning. Murakami often refers to movies, especially film noir in his novels, naming titles and actors. While there is no specific reference in Tony Takitani, the film could be seen as a reverse of Vertigo, as if James Stewart decided not to pursue and remake Kim Novak.

Ichikawa doubles the doubling by having the same actor portray Tony Takitani and his jazz musician father, and the same actress as Tony's wife, Eiko, and Hisako, a woman Tony almost hires as an assistant based on her resemblance to Eiko. The film contrasts Tony's utilitarian view of the world with Eiko's appearance of superficiality. Tony's career as as commercial artist, reproducing objects with precise drawings and paintings is posited against his father's jazz which seems more spontaneous but is ultimately formulaic. The designer clothes that Eiko obsessively purchases function more as collected artwork, bought more for appearance than for actual use.

The film is extremely austere. Color is desaturated so that much of the film almost looks black and white, if not a palette of shades of gray with a dash of browns and blues. Ichikawa mostly uses long and medium shots, with extensive lateral tracking from one scene to another. The imagery is complimented by a solo piano score by Ryuichi Sakamoto which is somewhat repetitive, and reminiscent of George Winston's music.

If Tony Takitani concludes that following one's own path ultimately is a kind of trap or prison, Kamikaze Girls states that freedom is found only by following one's own path. The two films work together as cinematic yin and yang. While Tony Takitani is almost Bressonian, Kamikaze Girls is fully post-Tarantino, with some of the whimsy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Nakashima's film bursts with super saturated colors, loud rock music and anime. The two girls, Momoko and Ichigo, define themselves by very specific clothes that represent distinct youth sub-cultures. The film's Japanese title refers to a town, Shimostuma, known for growing cabbage. The town is sixty miles from Tokyo, which makes it a remote Disneyland of fashion and culture. Nakashima makes fun of small town life, centered on shopping at the Wal-Mart type store and playing pachinko. While Eiko in Tony Takitani buys designer clothes, many of Kamikaze Girls characters are happy scrambling to purchase cheap knock-off t-shirts, oblivious to the mispelled "Versach" in big letters. Momoko is as obsessed a consumer of "Lolita" style clothing.

Momoko wishes she was in 18th Century France, sticking to herself until Ichigo, a biker girl with the mouth and attitude of Sonny Chiba, imposes herself on the skeptical Momoko. The two aren't exactly friends but create an alliance based on rebellion against their small town. Clothing serves as both a statement of identity and a shield, until the two girls take on aspects of each other. At one point when the pair are in one of Tokyo's fashion districts, Momoko, in voice-over states: "Fashion was my teacher. It taught me how to live. When I see clothes I want to become worthy of them." In Kamikaze Girls, at least for Momoko, the sense of fashion that isolated her in her small town is also the vehicle for her freedom to live on her own terms.

Posted by peter at January 17, 2006 08:20 PM

Comments

The decision to rename the film Kamikaze Girls was, in my opinion, a huge mistake. It gives off the wrong image, is rather meaningless, and has nothing to do with the film itself. The original title, Shimotsuma Monogatari (Tale of Shimotsuma) evokes the great Monogataris of Japanese literature -- Genji, Heike, etc., and is really quite clever.

Also, the Viz DVD looks absolutely awful. That a contemporary film has such a bad transfer is inexcusable. Even the cheap Hong Kong release looks far better than this one.

Posted by: Filmbrain at January 18, 2006 09:42 AM

"Ver-sais." "versach." Funny how these things line up, eh?

As I said in a response to your comment on my own site, Kamikaze Girls sounds fascinating. I also have Tony Takitani and Nobody Knows on tap from Netflix, and just ran into a used copy of All About Lily Chou-chou which I can't get to fast enough. Too many treasures, not nearly enough time...

Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at January 19, 2006 07:54 PM