Tokyo Marigold (2001)

I’m currently reading Mark Schilling’s latest book “Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000”. Having previously read his earlier “Contemporary Japanese Film”, one thing is perfectly clear: Schilling very much likes the cinema of Jun Ichikawa. I’ve only seen two Ichikawa films: the excellent “Tony Takitani”, which I watched multiple times around thirteen or fourteen years ago; and “Tokyo Marigold”, a film that I watched, but didn’t really get into. The former no longer requires another chance, but the latter perhaps deserved a second outing.

Eriko (Rena Tanaka – who is not my wife) is a young woman somewhat lost in adult life. Working as a clerk for an out-of-the-ordinary Morris Minor dealership and garage – though her office appears more a British-theme cafe – she is drifting through her days of no sex and the big city. Around her, colleagues and friends appear more sure of themselves, going places with their lives, offering her friendly advice, job opportunities and chances at love.

Job opportunities come in the form of Miyashita (Yoichiro Saito), and old school friend she bumps into her on her Tokyo wanderings. Quickly, he asks her to appear in an unusual baseball commercial he is working on. This seems an empty promise. Meanwhile a work colleague offers her a chance at love. Invited to join a formal dating party, five eligible bachelors advertise their career prospects to the five young women sat opposite. It is at this party, when all is coming to an end, she bonds with the slightly older, but heavily drunk, Tamura (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). Clearly a step to the left from the rest of the group, Tamura asks for her details and she agrees to meet again while he is awake and vertical.

The pair meet and get on like the Tokyo skyline meeting the sunset, but Tamura is holding back. He reveals he has a girlfriend, the unseen Mayumi, who is away studying in the US for a year. The revelation takes the pressure off the couple, however, and there is no need to force anything. As such, romance blossoms.

Quickly, they get a flat together, under the agreement that, for a year, they will be a couple. But Eriko’s life drifting on the wind is no more. She is now an adult having an affair. The twilight mood grows dark into the night, with Tamura unsheathing his drunk salaryman innards, neglecting his temporary girlfriend, as they live a lifelong relationship within the twelve month timeframe of his setting.  

For a film that moves at a slow, steady pace in perpetual twilight, there is a lot of variety on offer. Ichikawa, a director of commercials by trade, mixes music videos and commercials into his tale. Ozuesque fixed camera cross-section shots of the pair’s love nest are matched with a Shunji Iwai sense of modern day youthful ennui throughout. The soundtrack whistles along on the breeze, much like Eriko, though darker tones emerge once Eriko and Tamura’s relationship becomes sexual.

This is very much modern Tokyo (despite being two decades old now). A Bubble Era spill-off facade of clean streets and skyscrapers are the backdrop to Eriko’s wandering mind. This is a Tokyo of minimalism, full of new-build apartments furnished by MUJI, where coffee shops are the ultimate hangout. I’m sure the Tokyo 2020 organising committee would like to agree.

If that’s the “Tokyo” of the title, the “Marigold” is the new replacing the old. At the house of her artist mother Ritsuko (Kirin Kiki), her uncle Kunio (Akira Terao) discusses the marigolds in the garden. And this ephemeral flower of short life cycle is the obvious homerun for Eriko’s scenario: she was merely a substitute where love came with a sell-by date. On realising this, Eriko is once again drifting on the breezy soundtrack.

But it is not just Eriko’s love life where the new replaces the old. Ichikawa shows a Tokyo fifty years on from Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece; and Miyashita’s commercial shows there is a lot to this Tokyo for the new millennium. “Tokyo Marigold”, however, will not be a film held in such high regard.

A cruel twist at the end, however, shows how love’s enforced deadline may have been the true facade all along. But this is not “Tokyo Evergreen”. And while Tamura is left in tears, Eriko is left to think on, though now with a matured glint in her eye.

Come on. Let’s play baseball…on the toilet?!

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