From “New York Stories” to “Paris je t’aime,” the geocentric omnibus film has become a popular blank canvas for directors to freely experiment in the short-form medium. In the titular-set triptych “Tokyo!”, director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) fashions “Interior Design,” about an ambitious young filmmaker and his listless girlfriend, who begins to sit around like a piece of furniture… literally. Leos Carax (“Pola X”) flings “Merde” at the screen, an absurdist paranoid comedy about a sewer-dwelling monster (Denis Lavant) who terrorizes the Japanese, and while we love Bong Joon-Ho (“The Host”), we won’t discuss his segment since he wasn’t around to talk about it. I took turns asking similar questions to the self-proclaimed “narcissist” Gondry and the self-proclaimed “pretentious” Carax with — like any anthology film, appropriately — wildly mixed results.
What was your first trip to Tokyo like?
I went there 12 years ago to do a commercial for Polaroid. It was very difficult to shoot there because the permit situation was complex, and I didn’t know the differences in communication. Japanese people don’t really say “no” — you have to understand by yourself it’s “no.” So you get confronted by impossibilities right until the last minute because nobody told you it would not be possible. I had a negative first impression, but as I went [there] again to promote my movies, I started to like it better. I felt a very warm welcome. They always give you a present, which you guys don’t do here.
Actually, I brought you these mix CDs.
Ah, that’s nice! My impression of Tokyo grew, and in the end, I spent a lot of time there. I was very anxious when we started to shoot because I asked to change the location to shoot. Basically, they don’t want to work hard to go through the trouble of shooting in Tokyo. [The location scout] suggested we shoot everything outside of Tokyo, but I’m sorry, this movie is called “Tokyo!” and “Interior Design” is not necessarily based on the city to start with, so, if on top of that, we had shot outside of Tokyo, it would have meant nothing. Because of the difficulty of [obtaining] the official permit, we had to play a little guerilla style. It’s funny, Spielberg is not a filmmaker I would quote generally. I remember him talking to an audience of young filmmakers, [saying] he takes a problem as an advantage. That’s some of the best advice I’ve heard.
According to posted street signs in Brooklyn, you were missing in action. Where were you?
I have nothing to do with that. Some people get mad at me for those, so I don’t want to comment about that. I think some people were trying to do a documentary on me, and it was flattering in the beginning, then it becomes annoying because people thought I was doing that. I advertise myself, but not in a silly way like that. I do something more serious like doing a Rubik’s Cube with my feet or my nose. I’m not going onto the milk cardboard.
Which third of “Tokyo!” is your favorite?
Gabrielle’s. [Graphic novelist Gabrielle Bell, who wrote the comic Gondry’s segment is based on, is practically sitting in his lap.] We should bring Gabrielle into this conversation. We directed it together, I would say. [Bell chimes in: “I wouldn’t go that far.”] She has a very sharp opinion, and reminded me of when I was working with Charlie Kaufman, only I would not kiss Charlie Kaufman. He has too much hair for my taste. She’s a very shy person, but very opinionated, which sounds like hell as a relationship. [Bell: “I was always on the set, whispering in his ear.”] Anyway, I don’t know what the question was, but that’s the answer.
I was asking about your favorite segment in the film.
It’s difficult. When I watch my film, I always feel self-conscious. I can’t see the thing as it is with an objective perspective because I remember all the pieces separately and all the pain I went through to achieve them. When I saw the film together, I didn’t feel the connection as strong as I would’ve liked to because we did the first one, and not the others. I couldn’t really judge, but there are parts in every film that I feel are better than mine, and some of the parts are not as good. I like the part I did the best because I did it, and I’m a narcissist. But that’s a stupid question, I have to say. If I asked you if you were good-looking, what would you say?
Then I’m okay, too.
If you saw a woman transform into a chair, how would you react?
I would put her in a closet. [Bell laughs: “Would you?”] No, I would bring her to the doctor right away.