“Tokyo!” is made up of three unrelated shorts directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, all set, yes, in Tokyo.
Stop, you’re shrieking, how much hipness can one little omnibus film contain?
It turns out, as is often the case with these things, a swoopingly uneven amount. I liked the Gondry portion, found Carax’s a promising joke stretched too thin (though it attracted the most applause at the screening) and Bong’s pretty damn disappointing. None of these filmmakers is actually from the city in which the film is set, and their methods of approach to encapsulating it in a short vary. Gondry’s “Interior Design” kicks off as a plausible look at a young couple struggling with their move to the city that rapidly plunges into Gondrisms aspiring auteur Akira (Ryo Kase) screens his low-budget sci-fi film in a porn theater and enthusiastically pumps a smoke machine until the audience spills out, coughing; Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani), not knowing what she wants from life, discovers a surreal ability to transform herself into something she considers truly useful. Gondry’s shown something of a fetish for tiny, cramped living spaces, and so he takes to Tokyo with ease, and the length limitation means “Interior Design” doesn’t exhaust its charm by spilling all over the place in the manner of the features he’s written.
Carax’s film, “Merde,” casts the director’s beloved Denis Lavant as a cock-eyed, red-bearded troll who emerges from the sewers to terrorize the Tokyo population by eating their flowers and cash, stealing their cigarettes and crutches and licking their armpits, all of which he does during an uproarious single-take stroll down the street the world’s monster-magnet metropolis attacked by a combed-over, corporeal id. After that opening segment, there’s nowhere left to go but down a trial, a fellow troll who’s a French lawyer, a scant appearance from Julie Dreyfus, and a line of Merde action figures.
Bong, whose closing segment “Shaking Tokyo” was probably the most anticipated, at least by anyone who’s seen “The Host,” zooms in on the life of a hikikomori, one suffering from the media–adored Japanese disorder in which people retreat to their rooms or homes for what can be years. His nameless recluse (Teruyuki Kagawa) has been bunkered down in his apartment for over a decade, until a perfectly timed earthquake drops a pizza delivery girl (Yu Aoi) in her tracks in his entryway, and he finally finds something worth going outside for. But the hikikomori phenomenon is just too ripe a metaphor from the beginning, the film lacks traction, with its central character reflecting on his condition in a manner almost anthropological until events drift into magical realism. From a director who delicately explored his own country’s insecurities and ills by way of a river-born mutant, “Shaking Tokyo” rings sadly false.
[Denis Lavant in “Tokyo!,” Comme des CinÃ©mas, 2008]
+ “Tokyo!” (Festival-Cannes.fr)