Three directors, two Frenchmen and a Korean, visit JapanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest city with mixed, but mostly successful, results in the new anthology TOKYO! Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), Leos Carax (THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE), and Bong Joon-Ho (THE HOST) direct three stories that vary in tone but all incorporate fantasy elements.
TOKYO! kicks off with GondryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story INTERIOR DESIGN, a wry and surreal tale of a pompous aspiring filmmaker and his put-upon girlfriend. Both penniless and homeless, Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani) and Akira (Ryo Kase) arrive in Tokyo and crash on the floor of a friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tiny apartment. Turns out the travails of Japanese slackers arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t much different than American ones. After humorous disasters involving parking tickets, odd jobs, and apartment hunting, Hiroko premieres his gonzo-awful film at a gay porn theatre complete with a smoke machine that sends his audience running from the screening in tears. Akira becomes worn down by the hassles of city life and a growing distance from Hiroko, and she begins to feel as though sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simply a piece of furniture. Her self-esteem issues eventually manifest themselves physically in fanciful (and CGI-enhanced) ways that I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reveal here. There is a lot of detail about Tokyo city living in INTERIOR DESIGN and I got a real feel for the city. The closet-like living spaces (the result of Tokyo’s housing crisis) becomes a running joke and Gondry shifts masterfully from slice-of-life observations to the supernatural.
The second story, Leos CaraxÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dark MERDE (apparently the French word for Ã¢â‚¬Å“ShitÃ¢â‚¬ ), a monster-movie allegory about language, racism and non-conformity, is the strongest (and most extreme) of the three tales. MERDE features Denis Lavant as the title character, a green-suited, one-eyed subterranean troll-man who crawls out from a manhole cover and, to the strains of Akira IfukubeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s GODZILLA march, terrorizes the citizens of Tokyo. In the impressively extended opening shot, his rampage is relatively harmless, grabbing flowers and cigarettes from bystanders and devouring them. This red-bearded Ã¢â‚¬Å“Creature from the SewersÃ¢â‚¬ becomes something of a media curiosity, but his actions soon turn murderous when he finds a stash of WWII era grenades and begins hurling them indiscriminately at passersby. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s caught and stands trial and here the story takes an even stranger turn as heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defended by a gibberish-spouting French attorney who, throughout the proceedings, comes to resemble his client in more ways than one. Convicted and sentenced to die, Merde becomes something of a hero to TokyoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more radical youth. Lavant is a marvel in the title role, at times funny, scary, and profound. MERDE is the one story here I could have enjoyed seeing extended to feature length.
The third story SHAKING TOKYO! is more somber and, I think the weakest of the three. Director Bong Joon-ho illustrates the love life of a Tokyo agoraphobic (well played by Teruyuki Kagawa) who has not left his home or socialized in 11 years (the Japanese word for this is hikikomori, in America we call them STAR WARS fans). Rows of immaculately arranged pizza boxes, toilet paper rolls, and old magazines decorate the inside of his home. Careful not to make eye contact with the pizza delivery men who drop off his food, he seems to have long ago accepted his self-imposed loneliness. One day the pizza guy is a pizza girl, eye-contact is finally made, and this event is (literally) earthshaking. On the young womanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s body are tattoos of labeled buttons (happiness, love, coma) that can be pressed for literal results. Is this woman a robot or has Bong gone overboard with symbolism? Slow paced and more restrained in presentation than the first two stories, I think I may have enjoyed SHAKING TOKYO better if it had been presented first.
TOKYO! Is a cool sort of triple feature and I enjoyed it much more than the similar, less-even PARIS JEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢TAIME. Even viewers with an aversion to Asian films should be entertained and this TOKYO! is well worth a visit.
‘Tokyo!’ opens today in Saint Louis at the Tivoli Theatre.
[Overall: 4 out of 5 stars]