Tokyo is a city of transitions in three short films. A young woman who finds her life useless experiences a metamorphosis. A disheveled Caucasian emerges from a manhole to face arrest, trial, and execution; he calls himself "Merde" and speaks a language only his look-alike attorney understands. Is he human? A recluse experiences human contact when a pizza-delivery girl faints at his door during an earthquake. He conquers fear to seek her out. A chair, a corpse, a hermit: sources of urban connection? Written by
Tokyo! Is comprised of 3 very purely and exaggeratedly visual surreal tales about some sort of phenomenon in the titular city, each injected with quirky, silly humor and uncompromising sadness. We never know where any of them is going or when they will come to a close, and most of the time, that's what makes them so good. Truth be told, when all is said and done, these are three of the most inventively made and engrossing short films I've seen in quite awhile. So why are they all one movie? Why was Tokyo needed to tell these stories? Do these films reflect actual aspects of modern Tokyo? What makes these 3 separate films inextricably linked thus necessitating that they all be one? Michel Gondry's Interior Design, a just barely more conventional tale, features two young lovers new in Tokyo, who experience personal and physical transformations during the despair of apartment-hunting. It abounds with Gondry's usual trick photography and manipulation of set design, though it finds a sympathetic and guileless note in its attention to these two slackers, who are products of the new generation, the spoiled, emotionally immature but liberal and culturally cultivated bunch of bums we are.
The best of the three is Merde, the centerpiece by Leos Carax. If you have never before seen a Carax film, start with Tokyo! Because Merde is utterly the most bewilderingly odd, completely goofy little movies you will ever see. Might even take the cake. What makes it so incredibly good is how it isn't just a gag film, but actually subjects us to mood swings. We find the whole thing a riot, but we get seriously absorbed in its turns as eerie, suspenseful and adventurous. I can't talk about the plot, even though a simple logline wouldn't be much of a giveaway---the first shot is a long dolly track that pretty much sums up what I would say, which is a doozy---but just let the intrigue string you along and let Merde blindside you. But let me also say that Tokyo, though it is of course a part of the plot, is the least of our focus.
Shaking Tokyo, directed by Bong Joon-ho, who helmed the astounding Korean monster movie The Host, is about a hikikomori, a type so familiar the Japanese have a name for it. A hikikomori, usually male, decides to stay inside one day and essentially never leaves. Some have been reported as hermits for up to 10 years, living mostly on pizza deliveries. Joon-ho's closing segment is certainly the anthology's most heartfelt piece.
I suppose Tokyo! is guilty of nothing New York Stories or Paris Je T'aime aren't, but I guess New York Stories at least contained stories that could only work the way they did if they took place in NYC, and each of the three directors on that project were born and bred New Yorkers whose films are famous for living and breathing the city. My issue with anthology films in general, whether their content is good or not, is that they feel so jagged, incoherent, hit-or-miss, being the product of multiple directors with multiple visions and unrelated stories. Why can't Interior Design, Shaking Tokyo, and Merde especially, be celebrated as stand-alone works? I feel they more than deserve it.
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