Dirs: Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Bong Joon-ho. France-Japan-Korea-Germany. 2008. 110mins.
One out of three ain’t bad for this Tokyo-themed directorial three-hander. Whimsical Michel Gondry delivers a thirty-minute segment that resonates, while compatriot Leos Carax spoils an otherwise tasty genre exercise by pressing it into service as a message film. Korea’s Bong Joon-ho, meanwhile, delivers an artsy rom-com that is too slight even for its half-hour running time.
Unlike Asian horror omnibus Three Extremes, the directors of Tokyo! have little in common and the Tokyo cityscape isn’t enough to make them bond. Another recent urban-themed portmanteau, ParisJe T’aime, managed the act better - perhaps because its 18 segments were more bite-sized. Tokyo! is unlikely to repeat that film’s relatively wide arthouse outreach, with only the four co-production territories looking like dead certs for theatrical distribution. But all three directors have cult fanbases - so long-tail ancillary prospects should be more upbeat.
An animated title sequence and the final credits are the film’s only communal spaces. Gondry is the first up with Interior Design, a tale of a couple of amiable urban drifters, Akira (Kase) and Hiroko (Fujitani). Gondry perfectly captures the fantasy-realist spirit of his source material, the graphic short story ‘Cecil and Jordan in New York ’ by Gabrielle Bell, even though it has been moved to Tokyo. Though apparently inconsequential until it becomes a partly-animated surreal parable in the last five minutes, the segment has a warm indie fire to it that is stoked by the chemistry between the three leads (the other is Ayumi Ito, who plays the pair’s former schoolfriend and reluctant Tokyo host).
No shrinking wallflower, Carax puts his cards on the table with the title of Merde, an odd, angry little curio about a Tokyo sewer-dweller that is at its best during rare moments of tenderness. Denis Lavant is suitably extreme as Merde, a green-suited, red-bearded, flower-eating freak who is vilified by Japanese nationalists and idolised by the country’s non-conformists after a bombing spree. There’s humour in a series of spoof TV news reports and both humour and pathos in Merde’s courtroom and prison exchanges, but Carax’s attempts to turn what is basically an enjoyable weirdfest into a parable of intolerance falls flat.
Which leaves Shaking Tokyo - a decidely minor outing for Korean genre auteur Bong Joon-ho. Teruyuki Kagawa plays an unnamed hikikomori, an urban recluse who shuts himself up in his obsessively tidy apartment, refusing even to make eye contact with the bike couriers whose deliveries he survives on. Then a pizza girl (Aoi) faints on his floor during an earthquake. Jun Fukumoto’s poetic photography - which recalls Chris Doyle’s long-lens work in another film about an urban recluse, Last Life In The Universe - is the best thing about this occasionally charming but dramatically flaccid love story.
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