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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
The closing film for this year's Singapore French Film Festival, it couldn't be more than apt as I prepare for my own trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, and what more than to sit through a collection of three short stories set in the capital city, as told by Frenchmen Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Korean Bong Joon-ho, with their respective titled shorts Interior Design, Merde and Shaking Tokyo.
While I had enjoyed Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tremendously, Singapore failed to screen Science of Sleep theatrically, but Be Kind Rewind had better luck. Amongst the three shorts presented, his is the one that I would rate the best, having to tell a deceptively simple tale about people, and some really keen observation that I'd bet most of us would fall into or had experience some point or another.
His Interior Design is two fold, telling of a couple who relocated to Tokyo, and on the kind grace of their friend, managed to put up in her home for, well, until they get an apartment of their own. I'm sure many of us would identify with either being someone who's not "automatic", in exploiting the goodwill of others to a max, though sometimes it's not by choice but by circumstance when Fate decides to deal an unfair hand. Or if you happen to be the Good Samaritan believing that helping your friends out would boost your karma, but unfortunately you feel discomforted by the fact that things have well gone overboard, not to mention with an unnecessary extension to the disruption of your personal life too. It's a fine balance to tread especially when you realise that there are still some OB markers even amongst the best of friends that one shouldn't cross.
The other aspect of Gondry's quirky story dealing with a literal metaphor. I felt this was a somewhat funny aspect, though it did bring to mind that everyone strives to be useful in their lives, either to their loved ones, or to society in general. And sometimes, this calling when found could bring some sense of immense fulfillment and happiness, nevermind if in the eyes of others, it could be a simple function that you're out to satisfy. It's pretty amazing how all these rolled succinctly into an approximately 40 minute feature that's well shot and acted.
Now Leos Carax's installment Merde is a mixed bag, and my least liked amongst the three. It had the potential of being truly a great story dealing with man's fear for the unknown and the bizarre, especially when the story cuts quite similar to recent incidents along the streets of Tokyo with random stabbings. Here, Merde is a man who crawls out from the sewers without explanation, with a long beard and pupil-less eyes, walking with a gait and is just about extremely obnoxious to everyone he comes across, before disappearing without a trace into the sewers again.
It was fun while it lasted, where everyone had their own interpretation of this widely talked about figure, until the later half where it all went downhill from there, suffering from the overindulgence of scene after scene of mindless interrogation in what I deem as made up language (or Polish?) sans subtitles, so you'll have to take it at face value, whatever was revealed through Japanese interpretors. While it does have a set conclusion, the in-between was one trying test of patience that I dislike, as it was unnecessary.
Bong Joon-ho's the odd one out amongst the French filmmakers, but he holds his own with his story dealing with a reclusive hermit who boxes himself up at home, never to interact with any other humans, except when ordering pizza, and even then, avoids eye contact. He lives his life in an orderly fashion, and is a modern day junk collector who turns his trash into nicely stacked decorations within his household. Naturally things change when the status quo got challenged with a female pizza delivery-woman, and an earthquake which sends everything, including the girl, tumbling down.
It's a fun little love story, and a non-conventional one given the problems facing each character. In wanting to seek out his new found love, who never visited again, the hermit has got to challenge his fear of the big outside. The last memorable scene involving such a phobia, was with Holly Hunter's character in Copycat. Here, we play on the same fears, and I thought it worked in the plot really well, nevermind the almost farcical way the two would-be lovers connect. If only love were to be so easy as with a click of a button, for instant success. Not everything gets explained though, so you're likely to have to come up with your own conclusion with Bong's contribution.
I guess only Gondry's version allowed us to glimpse a slice of Tokyo in its streets and buildings built in such a way that a narrow gap exists, which of course could also provide fuel for ideas which was slightly elaborated in the movie. I thought it could have made an interesting story on its own, and perhaps, just perhaps, I'll explore it on my own and give it a go when I depart for the city later this week. Can't wait for that, and I guess just for Gondry's work alone, and Bong's strangely entertaining and visually beautiful short, I'll call this in as Recommended.
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