Disclaimer: This article does not serve to be educational or to act as a review but constitutes purely of the author’s opinions
Although this post is much slower then Tsubaki’s entry in ADD which pretty much encapsulates on what’s so good about this Ichikawa Jun’s movie made in 2001, I still hope that this post would provide an insight into the perceived ideas behind this piece of art.
Rather delve into a movie review and the technical aspects of it which is already covered in Tsubaki’s post in ADD, I prefer to give my opinions on the concepts I drew from this. Tokyo Marigold, obviously titled after the flower, the Marigold , where the ephemeral aspect of the flower is central to the film. The movie can be seen as a vehicle for the emptiness of current modern society, especially of the post-Millenial generation.
Tokyo Marigold’s premise led us to see Eriko living out her life in a meandering manner, seemingly going through the motions. This is especially so, during the Goukon (A term for a group blind date but the main aim is more on meeting new people and expanding one’s social circle) where she seemed incredibly disengaged from the activities of it. The bowling sequence in the movie, jarring individually but beautifully juxtaposed together to carve out strong emotions, where the words are filled in by the lyrics of the background song.
The question of living and existing, how would one quantify living and existence? As one gradually grows up in society, the inevitable question will be asked of them: How will you live?
The answer tends to be laid out in front of us: A growing emptiness. The very realisation of it is a powerful force, driving people into contentment or to live out their life in a pilgrimage in search for it. As the movie progresses on, we see how Eriko took up the actress job because there was no reason to say no, why would there be not a reason to say no?
The opening sequence sets out this entire question of emptiness, where Erika stated in a pique of frustration that she’s not lonely and she just kind of like being by herself. That statement echoes with a very famous statement uttered last century by Greta Garbo , the great actress, "I want to be alone". What is the relationship of being alone and being lonely? Is Eriko’s loneliness real? Or seemingly in her eyes only? We used to say that no man’s an island, but in today’s context, one might prefer to say that no man’s an open window. The dynamics of society is now developed in such a way, that we can’t escape human contact in any form be it real or virtual. Perhaps this closeness to other human beings has distorted our mind to believe that a solitary life is a very sorry one.
Eriko’s life before meeting Tamura was portrayed out to be like a dream, where the images presented are wavering and soft slideshows of Eriko living her life where her "aloneness" was seemingly highlighted in a halo of painful consciousness. Yet Ichikawa Jun, the director purposefully made all the mundane shone with a very real, organic beauty, very much against the grain of general thought that the mundane life is tiresome and boring. His technique of using the ephemeral as a motif in the film was brilliant, in the smoke that flickered and threatened to obscure the very film itself. The concept of Transience (物の哀れ in Japanese) is very strong in the film, the contrast between what’s transient and permanent. Yet we must not assume that transience is to be judged as something innately wrong despite humanity’s obsession with eternity. The film through the chat between Eriko and her uncle showed us a possible answer to what’s real in the transient nature of our lives, that transience is a beautiful thing and that does not change. Our lives are like the marigolds, blooming for a very short life and dying away but it is not inherently bad, morals shouldn’t come to the picture.
The final part of the film where Eriko returns to her place, after a tearful plea to Tamura to break up is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film although the meaning and the purpose of it can be interpreted in many ways. The commercial of her in a kimono throwing a baseball as part of a chain of people throwing baseballs can be a representation of human relations, threads of individuals twinning together before the affinity among them breaks up where it catapults one person to another place.
That’s a very fatalistic point of view, one alternative reasoning is her realisation that her raison d’etre does not lie in conforming with society. Her emptiness and loneliness was sheerly a transient moment, a beautiful and poignant one. Concepts such as transience and permanence can be seen as simply the same matter changing from one state to another, there will be turning points where transience changes to something more permanent and where something once real could simply evaporate away.
Tokyo Marigold pose another question on modern society, what’s the perception of modern love? Do we love for the sake of it or do we love for we are lonely? By whose rules that makes us lonely and making us fall in love? Eriko’s lovely view onTamura started to fade away when she realised that Tamura simply used her as a substitute. Questions are raised in the scene where she laid on the floor, pondering whether is she living or existing? And that is she living or existing with or without Tamura? The quest for one’s raison d’etre, does it lies in a person only? Or in our environment? The conversation with Tamura by Eriko on oranges is a Kafka-esque dialogue where the onus and the centrestage is occupied with seemingly mundane and random objects. Objects that has no relation to the immediate question and conversation, the contrast between Eriko and Tamura was striking. One who was enthusiastic over it and another who was only a flower vase in what’s more like a monologue.
The tangerine monologue helps to peel away the beautiful layers of Tokyo Marigold to expose the ideas wrapped around in the dreamy and moody colours of the film. Aside from how it was delivered in Kafka-esque randomness, it was very delicate in how it explored expectations, anticipations and perceptions. Like the tangerines, the ideas was brought out in a myraid of tastes and fashions, how one perceive the actions of others, understanding them in a unique fashion and expecting.
Eriko could be awaiting and expecting an answer from Tamura but he didn’t reply. Their relationship itself is an interesting thing to ponder, what’s the reasons or impulses that brought them together? Was it because of their loneliness or their solitary existence? Could we see it in Eriko’s inner struggles of whether could she live without Tamura? In Tamura’s tears when he took in all of the emotions that Eriko returned to him? The baseball sequence provides us with another interpretation beside human relations, it can also be seen how transient things can be. Where issues easily bounce off from one individual to another, picked up and thrown to another person and so on.
To attempt to bring to an end to this article, I would like to relate how this film was part of the Japanese Film Festival where the theme is on True Romance. Tokyo Marigold being a film on transience and permanence, fleshes out several aspects of romances beautifully. Despite how mundane the film appeared, in the hands of Ichikawa Jun, the director, they were seemingly coated in a faerie dust that made them beautiful. The mundane is integral to this film because it creates a realism, an organic feel to it. How often will one feel detached and yet harking for the beautiful romances in western films? The principle of Mono no Aware is very strong here, where the permanent beauty of things exist precisely of the transient nature of it.
The aspects of love and emptiness are bridged together in the affair between Eriko and Tamura because of the questions it raised. Why would Tamura cheat on her girlfriend despite knowing that she will return in a year? Does the lack of a signifcant other in one’s life constitutes as loneliness and emptiness? Has our society twisted our private life into a play with only 2 characters in it? Eriko seeked for something in her life but was it a gap that must be filled with romance? The romance gradually warped, with Tamura seemingly content with the presence of Eriko whereas Eriko saw Tamura’s existence filling up all of her life. One getting absorbed into the romance whereas the other was getting more detached from it. Eriko desired for the change of the romance from transient, temporal to be something more solid and permanent whreas Tamura was content with the status quo.
The late revealation where Tamura’s supposed love never loved him at the start changed everything, so was Tamura too a prisoner of the wish for something permanent? The tables turned in a relationship where one orginally was trapped in the trap for wishing something more real and the other satisfied with transience, in the very end, Eriko was liberated from her "gap" that she had to fill up with romance and the other trapped in the ideals of romance.
Tokyo Marigold like the flower, is a lovely piece that’s meant to fade and die away in our memories but that nature is probably why it will last. To give another metaphor, it’s like a lovely silk piece where the beauty is in the tiny ripples of conflict, rippling it to give it a beautiful sheen.
I decided that it’s time for pictures but I can’t find any good scans so I decided that Rena Tanaka, the actress, alone will suffice.
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