Wednesday, September 19, 2007

[Japanese Film Festival] Tokyo Marigold (東京マリーゴールド / Tôkyô Marîgôrudo)

I'm Clueless

Director-in-Attendance Ichikawa Jun was again present to introduce Tokyo Marigold, his 15th film. He shared that he had made films for 20 years, and tomorrow's screening of How to Become Myself is his 20th film, therefore he's been making about one film a year!

There are 3 movies to date that he had made containing the title "Tokyo" - Tokyo Lullaby, Tokyo Siblings, and Tokyo Marigold. He's born in Tokyo and has lived in the city ever since, and therefore liked it very much. The first two movies were nostalgia movies, based on the Tokyo of old, while today's movie is more contemporary and about today's Tokyo, tackling the life of a contemporary Japanese girl.


Based on a novel by Hayashi Mariko, Tokyo Marigold would currently rank as my favourite of 3 Jun Ichikawa movies I've seen to date. It's a contemporary look at modern day relationships, following the protagonist, Eriko Sakai (Rena Tanaka) in her very strange proposal and arrangement with Tamura (Yukiyoshi Ozawa).

Meeting in a blind group date, they start off as platonic friends, before dating casually, and while we know that Eriko is single and lonely (suspend your disbelief here, as if pretty women don't experience that sometimes?), Tamura is awaiting the return of his girlfriend from America. As we hear of horror stories involving long distance relationships and the relatively higher propensity to cheat on each other, Eriko and Tamura go deeper into their relationship and enter the next stage, except that their contract stems from a strange agreement that Eriko sets, that Tamura be her boyfriend for just one year, before his girlfriend returns to Japan.

It's hard to think that someone would already place a finite duration on a relationship, to put an end firmly in sight. In what could be to counter their loneliness experienced in a metropolitan city, this temporal relationship start to take its toil on both parties - one taking the other for granted, while the other trying her best to make the most of that one year. You wonder if such a relationship based on triviality would prevail, as it's something that seemed doomed from the very start to begin with.

But under Ichikawa Jun's direction, the surface is always very beautiful, and again some hallmarks which I thought made Tokyo Marigold extremely enjoyable to sit through, despite its darker undertones. It has an excellent soundtrack of pop tunes, and he managed to, given that it's somewhat an ode to the city he resides in, infuse scenes of everyday Tokyo, including familiar landmarks, without making them intrude forcefully into the narrative.

The strengths in the movie however, rests on 3 points in my opinion, otherwise it may seem like a typical modern day romance tale. First, a very brief scene involving baseball, and I liked how it was developed to provide that strong punch toward the end. Sometimes in life we get thrown a stinker, often not when we're anticipating it nor given a choice. What do you do? Catch it, make do what you can, and very quickly, toss a curveball back and move on. You will not be put down you say? Yes, and similarly that scene where Eriko watches herself in the ad, does provide that little uplifting feeling of hope. The other strength in the movie, is Rena Tanaka's portrayal of Eriko. The pixie-faced actress superbly brought out her frailty, struggles, and naiveness with much aplomb, that you can't help but to root for her, even though you know that her suffering is of her own making, based on a bad decision and choice made. And lastly, the tangerine monologue (well, since Tamura isn't really paying attention) is well worth the price of an admission ticket for the subtleties contained within on perceptions, anticipation and expectations.

Tokyo Marigold's ending too was quite moving, containing a bittersweet ending, together with a sense of victory, yet with a tinge of that sorry feeling. It allows both camps - those who wishes for her to move on, and those who don't, avenues to interpret the events outside what was in the film, and in that aspect, satisfies whichever direction that floats your boat. But I would like to sit on the fence (maybe because of personal experience), that one knows and can speculate with great accuracy what had happened, look back, reminisce and appreciate that one year, and probably nothing more. In that sense, Tokyo Marigold worked for me, thoroughly.

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