3 Stars Movies

Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-ho’s Tokyo!

Tokyo! is a portmanteau film comprised of three shorts set in the eponymous city, all by directors not themselves from Japan: Michel Gondry and Leos Carax from France, and Bong Joon-ho from South Korea.

Gondry’s “Interior Design” is based on the comic book Cecil and Jordan in New York by Gabrielle Bell, with the action transposed to Tokyo. At first, her low-key love story doesn’t seem to bear Gondry’s characteristic whimsical surreality, but by the end her collaboration with Gondry makes perfect sense. Young couple Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani, daughter of Steven Seagal) and Akira (Ryo Kase) move to Tokyo, with the hope of finding audiences for Akira’s pretentious films. Without prospects, they crash on the floor of a childhood friend’s miniscule flat and quickly outstay their welcome.

Their optimism to find jobs and an apartment is quickly dashed – only Akira is suited to menial work, and they can’t even afford the city’s dingiest rat traps. Like April (Kate Winslet) in Revolutionary Road, Hiroko doesn’t have much ambition of her own beyond supporting her artist partner. After going to extraordinary lengths on Akira’s behalf without feeling appreciated, Hiroko undergoes a fantastical transformation and winds up literally supporting a different artist. The significance of title comes clear as she literally becomes part of the scenery.

Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase in Tokyo
Hiroko and Akira in Tokyo

In Carax’s scatological “Merde,” Tokyo is terrorized by a madman with a twisty ginger beard and a rigorous diet of flowers, yen, and cigarettes. The “sewer creature” (so named by the media) is relatively harmless until he discovers a cache of grenades in a forgotten World War II-era bunker buried beneath the city. Only after he uses Imperial Japan’s own weapons against them in a terrible massacre is he tracked down in his sewer lair and apprehended. At this point, Carax’s short film becomes a courtroom drama, in which eccentric French magistrate Maître Voland (Jean-François Balmer) claims to be able to interpret the terrorist’s ravings, not least including his name: Merde (“shit”).

His scandalous speeches incite Japanese self-loathing and racism, but the populace curiously fails to question whether Voland is some kind of mad ventriloquist voicing his own prejudices through the mouth of an idiot. Merde becomes a pop icon; dueling gangs of picketers chant “FREE MERDE” versus “HANG MERDE.” Merde is sentenced to a Christ-like execution (which also very much resembles a similar sequence in Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark), followed by a caption that threatens a sequel set in New York.

“Free Merde!”

Bong Joon-ho’s “Shaking Tokyo” is the tale of a unnamed hikikomori (shut-in) living alone in a totally ivy-covered house, financially supported by a father he hasn’t seen in years. The agoraphobe (Teruyuki Kagawa) has become accustomed to a life of loneliness and rigorous routine. One day he meets a cute pizza delivery girl (Yu Aoi), out of his league, but apparently with her own share of crippling emotional issues.

She passes out in his foyer during an earthquake (not uncommon in the volcanic islands of Japan), and the hikikomori reboots her using her self-tattooed buttons on her body that appear to literally control her mood and health. The smitten loner escapes his self-created prison to seek her out again. He finds a city full of shut-ins, for whom even another earthquake isn’t enough to keep them out of their own homes for long.

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