Thursday, July 23, 2009


It's unfair to review "Tokyo!" as one film. Between the three shorts within it, there are no visual or narrative connections, no crosses over, only the fact that they revolve around the titular city (there are brief graphics at the beginning and end to tie things up). Two filmmakers are French, one is Korean. Two films are unsuccessful and one is very good. I will not evaluate the three as a whole, but as three separate pieces, even though other critics are doing otherwise.

The first film is Michel Gondry's "Interior Design," a visually appealing quasi-comedy apparently based off of a story called "Cecil and Jordan in New York" by Gabrielle Bell, about a filmmaker/gift-wrapper named Akira (Ryo Kase from "Letters From Iwo Jima," a much better film) and his girlfriend Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani), who are struggling to get by and are living with Hiroko's friend Akemi (Ayumi Ito). Akira's bizarre movie (involving a skeleton on a motorcycle and a birthed rabbit) is set to be screened at a porno theater. The scene in which he does show it is pretty hilarious and involves a nice use of a smoke machine. Anyways, Hiroko is tired of Akira. When she finds out he's in love with Akemi, she despairs. But not for long... she morphs into a chair and becomes human again only when people are not looking. Why this happens is beyond me. It's a nice little visual, but the film fails to make a big impression beyond its Japanese whimsy. It needs a little more necessity somehow to be really remembered as a short film. C

Gondry's offering is followed by Leos Carax's "Merde," that starts off as a take on a sewer-dwelling phenomenon that's actually intriguing. Denis Lavant is Merde, the being in question, and he manages to be bearable for the first few minutes. Then, Merde decides to throw grenades at people in the middle of the city, and is caught by the police in his underground hideout after doing so. But who should be his lawyer? Well, it has to be Maitre Voland (Jean-Francois Balmer), who's a attorney in France (the only time I believe the action shifts out of Tokyo) and who is contacted because is one of three who can communicate with him. From here, the short spirals into mediocrity and then to exceeding unpleasantness. There is a scene where Voland speaks with Merde that is at least a minute of unsubtitled ridiculousness. There are other language barrier problems as well, especially in the unbearable trial scene, where we have to wait for the Japanese judge to speak to a translator, who speaks to Voland in French, who speaks to Merde in their dialect, who speaks back to Voland, and sometimes this is subtitled in French, but others we have to go through him to a translator and back to the judge. There is also the use of multiple cameras here, which gets insane, since sometimes the cameras are filming the same exact thing. One camera, anyone? Well, we find out Merde is a racist put among the people he hates by his god, and the people he hates are the Japanese. From here, the film goes downwards to the end. The credits promise "Merde in USA" and such, but I got too much of him in Tokyo. Besides, what exactly would he do across the globe? Change racial prejudices? There's not enough backstory; in fact, backstory is laughed at. I wish it stayed how it was at the beginning, but Carax decides to go allegorical in the wrong ways and does poorly. D+

Placed last and unfortunately grouped with two lesser films is Bong Joon-Ho's "Shaking Tokyo," a charming, well thought out film about a recluse played by Teruyuki Kagawa (who played the father in this year's "Tokyo Sonata") who hasn't left his house in ten years and who's organized all of his possessions (especially the pizza boxes that he gets every Saturday). He fails to even make eye contact with the people he gets food from. Well, that's until he looks into the eyes of a pizza-delivery woman (Yu Aoi) and falls in love. When he "turns her on" via a button on her body after she passes out in his house after an earthquake (hence the title), she shies away and quits her job and she becomes a recluse as well. Well, when he learns of this from another delivery man, he sees he has to make a move. When he does, the film shifts into a study of extremism and society. Joon-Ho is a brilliant filmmaker, and here he and his vision definitely stand out. His creation is not fantastic (perhaps due to the very end), but is very good, and compared with the other two, it's ahead by miles. B+

"Tokyo!" itself is not really a film; it's a binding of three unrelated ideas that don't really reflect the city they are set in. "Shaking Tokyo" should be released separately, and considered on its own. As for the other two, I wasn't so impressed. A triptych in film has potential, but I believe the films should be more connected and more altogether solid than in this one.

No comments: