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Gondry vs. Carax: The Battle for “Tokyo!”

Gondry vs. Carax: The Battle for “Tokyo!” (photo)

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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.

03042009_gondry.jpgWhich 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?

I’m okay.

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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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