Tokyo! seems like it would be a sprawling love letter to the vast metropolis of the city by the same name. It’s anything but this however, and the three directors that contributed to the project made no qualms about it. The last collections of short films we saw that garnered in sort of respectable attention was 2006′s Paris, je t’aime. But don’t think the two are similar. Not even in the least. Tokyo! will require patience, sometimes more than you’d like to give.
Tokyo! is made of three short films. The first by Michel Gondry, his first film work since 2008′s disaster Be Kind Rewind, called “Interior Design.” The second is titled “Merde” (yes, the French word for shit), by another Frenchman Leos Carax, who hasn’t directed anything since 1999′s Pola X. And last, but certainly not least is by Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho (director of The Host), titled “Shaking Tokyo.”
“Interior Design” and “Shaking Tokyo” both deal with extremely isolated residents of the massive city, searching to make some sort of connection with someone or something. In Gondry’s case, he follows a young couple who move to Tokyo to make a new life. Here, Tokyo is portrayed as a series of small shops and extremely narrow streets. In Shaking Tokyo, a hikikomori’s (chronic shut-in) life is disrupted when a strange pizza delivery girl shatters his OCD-type of life style. Gondry’s unique style is clearly felt in every aspect of its run time. Joon-Ho’s part is perhaps the most moving and successful of the three shorts. The attempt at creating a romance between two misfits is actually quite compelling. The earthquakes that seem to plague the two at moments of emotional vulnerability seem to be more metaphorical, a more obvious demonstration of the failed attempt to control everything in ones own universe.
The more controversial of these three is Carax’s “Merde.” With ‘Shit’ as a title, no one would really argue this fact. The story follows ‘The Creature from the Sewers,’ also called Mr. Merde, played with brilliant nuance by French actor Denis Lavant. Lavant’s physical performance makes the viewer uneasy. Merde lives in the sewers below Tokyo. When he does come to the surface, he parades past high-end stores, stealing cigarettes from bystanders, and putting them out in baby carriages, grabbing money and flowers from others, and eating them. Carax’s oeuvre is notoriously thick and sometimes prideful in its incomprehensibility. It’s difficult to say whether or not “Merde” has a grander meaning than which is immediately presented. Perhaps that’s the point? It’s not clear. And it doesn’t have to be.
Each of the three pieces provides something for the viewer. Some are easier to swallow than the others. Strangely enough, this doesn’t seem to shed any positive light on the city of Tokyo itself. It’s more veiled criticism than it is anything else. If nothing else (and I think it’s much more than this), Tokyo! is thought-provoking and an interesting cinematic experience.