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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
"Tokyo!" is a collection of 3 short films each set in Tokyo, each made by a respected director who is not Japanese.
"Interior Design" is the first entry by French director Michel Gondry (known for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as well as all the cool Bjork videos from the 90s). This is actually an adaptation of a 4-page comic strip called "Cecil and Jordan in New York" by Gabrielle Bell. It begins with a somewhat mundane story of a young, penniless couple trying to scrape by in Tokyo, but it soon progresses into surreal, dreamlike, Michel Gondry territory. Spots of cute, satirical humor (poking fun at the pretentious artsy director boyfriend) as well as the under-appreciated girlfriend--an always welcome appearance of one of my favorite Japanese actresses, Ayako Fujitani (Steven Seagal's daughter, loved her in "Ritual")--make this a deliciously charming, mindbending treat to watch.
"Merde" (French for "sh!t") is a deeply satirical story of a repulsive criminal who lives in the Tokyo sewers, his violent activities, and society's bizarre reactions to him. Since the only real characters are the sewer monster and his kindred lawyer, there's not really anyone to get attached to. For that reason, this segment may seem unfulfilling to a lot of viewers (after all, who wants to watch a movie about a bunch of people you don't really like). But, more than any sort of human character study, this segment is rooted in deep social satire. That's where it gets its power. Directed by another French director, Leos Carax ("The Lovers on the Bridge"), this is an acidic film from start to finish. Sort of like a "Hunchback of Notre Dame" story but without any sympathy for the hunchback, this is a good film to watch when you're particularly disgusted with humankind.
"Shaking Tokyo" by Korean director Joon-ho Bong ("The Host") is a masterpiece of social disconnection. Set almost entirely in the meticulously tidy apartment of a "hikikomori"--a man with extreme agoraphobia who hasn't left his apartment in 10 years, it's surprisingly engaging despite its deliberately slow-moving presentation. The man is very likable in a nerdy way, and we instantly connect with him as someone who realizes that there's something wrong with the urban rat race, and so he withdraws into the most minimal sort of existence. But then by chance he encounters a strange visitor whose brief appearance causes him to, once again, question his chosen existence. A spectacular, mind-boggling finale rounds out this great piece leaving you with much to ponder. I also found the camera work to be the most pleasing here... You may notice cool tricks like the opening scene being shot entirely in 1 take, even though it guides us through several rooms and conveys the passing of time as if days are going by. Very nifty stuff here.
To me, "Shaking Tokyo" alone is worth the price of admission. But each of the 3 has its charm. If you're a fan of offbeat, surrealistic, artsy-but-not-annoying cinema, check these out for sure.
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