Movies can't exactly replicate the feeling of reading a book, but Jun Ichikawa's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story Tony Takitani comes remarkably close. Maybe it's because of the murmuring voice of narrator Hidetoshi Nishijima, who describes the characters' life and emotions in such precise terms that it's like he's feeding the information directly into the viewers' subconscious. (Sometimes the characters actually finish Nishijima's lines for him, as though what he's saying just occurred to them as well.) Or maybe it's Ichikawa's style, which frequently has a chair-level camera drifting slowly sideways, with the scene changing as the camera passes behind walls. The gradual but unstoppable movement creates the sensation of pages being turned.
Plot-wise, not much happens in Tony Takitani. Issei Ogata plays a jazz musician's son who grows up a loner and takes a job as a commercial artist because he prefers the literal to the fantastic or abstract. Ogata loses control of his emotions exactly once, when he meets and marries Rie Miyazawa, a demure woman with an obsessive shopping habit. When Ogata asks her not to buy so many outfits, the story takes its one turn. Describing that twist—or even speculating over what the movie's about—would give too much away, but suffice to say that for a slight character sketch, Tony Takitani becomes a lot more like Vertigo than anyone would expect.
Tony Takitani doesn't take long to watch, but Ichikawa's masterful pacing and feel for imagery makes the film feel full. It moves quickly early, as Nishijima recounts the hero's boyhood while filling the screen with a succession of old photos and close-ups of antiques, all set to the strains of distant jazz music, playing behind Ryuichi Sakamoto's spare piano score. (The most striking image in the movie comes early, when the narrator describes Ogata's dead mother and she drifts in and out of focus, finally dissolving into a grove of trees as Nishijima recounts her cremation.) Later, Tony Takitani gets slower and the frame less cluttered, as Ichikawa dwells on the deliberate rhythm of a mechanical bread slicer, and the way a man pouring a glass of beer waits for the foam to recede. At one point, Ogata complains that "ideological" painting is "immature, ugly, and inaccurate," but Tony Takitani has distinct ideological underpinnings, particularly in Ichikawa's reflection on how we make use of all we acquire. The film may be just an illustrated Murakami text, but Ichikawa illustrates it in three dimensions.