Tokyo! (2009) directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, & Joon-ho Bong
"Tokyo!" is a threeway with Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong, re-inventing Japans great city as modern fairy tales. Three fantasies of alienation, form into the most unique, original, and entertaining film of the year so far.
Gondry is up first with an adaption from a comic book by Gabrielle Bell "Cecil & Jordan in New York"(suprised was I, cus its one of my favorite stories by her, I did a presentation on it and everything) here retitled as "Interior Design". The two collaborated on the screen play, and it shows in a return to form, from his last goodnatured but slightly flat, "Be Kind Rewind". The story is of a couple who move to Tokyo, to screen an experimental film. The director is the boyfreind, and his girlfreind is his editor, transport, and support, though he claims she lacks ambition. They are looking for a place of there own, and staying with a freind in an overcrampt one room apartment. The boyfreind finds a job, the girlfreind looks for an apartment, job, and place to fit in becomming more marginalized all the time, until she begins to transform into...someone useful. Shades of "The Bedsitting Room" can be found here, but Gondry's trademark visual style is in full effect, featuring some amazing special effects, and fun set designs. It asks, Is it more important to be defined by what one loves, or what one does? Caravax's segment, called "Merde" is about a creature, like an overgrown Leprechaun, who crawls up from the sewer and begins accousting random people on the streets, eating flowers and money, licking and shoving anything and anyone who crosses his path, all to the theme of the original Godzilla. Needless to say he becomes an overnight celeberity(in Japan Sada Abe became a celeberity after murdering and removing the genitals of her lover, she played herself in plays about her life after she got out of prison, and this was before WW1. Nowadays the people photograph their monsters with camera phones). The creatures rampages turn violent, in one thrilling and especially horrific scene, and he is arrested and put on trial. The reason this is the weakest of the three, is because the creature speaks a jibberish language, and during an interrogation scene, we have about five minutes of jibberish talk, not translated til the following scene, its not really funny or dramatic, just kinda tiresome and awkward like a Monty Python skit dragged out too long. It's easy to point to terrorism and racism as the grand theme here, "he's linked to Al Queda and the Aum Cult", etc, but misanthropy in general works just as well, and is in keeping with the alienation that courses through all of the stories. Denis Lavent's performance is the best in the film, he manages to make the most inhuman character real, somewhere betweeen Gollum and a homeless paranoid schizophrenic. It's similar to an early Gondry short film actually, where Michel takes a shit in a public restroom and David Cross in a turd suit follows him around claiming to be his son and shouting racial slurs at passerby's, til he eventually outgrows his shit cacoon and emerges from it in full Nazi uniform to Gondry's dismay.
On the note of rampaging monsters, the final film is from Joon-ho bong, director of "The Host", called "Shaking Tokyo" about a hermit or hikikomori as they are a called in the land of the rising sun. A man has not left his house in ten years, having only human contact in weekly visits from a pizza man, whome he never looks in the face, has his delicate life josteled when an earthquake renders an attractive pizza-girl unconcious, and he is forced into direct contact. Eventually he resolves to leave his house to find her again, only to discover, or for us to discover the world is not as we remember it. Its an painfully funny but true idea (like Mike Judge's Idiocracy), that in the future, the final frontier of a technological society will become actual face to face interactions between human biengs.
Any of these stories would feel at home in an issue of Mome or a Haruki Marukami book of short stories, they are vibrant, whimsicle, modern fantasy, that are almost so universal in their simplicity they could be told anywhere. The movie could take place in any city really, with some tweaking, but the stories do resonate specially with Tokyo. It's the best thing Ive seen in a theater this year, I was smiling continuously throughout. Its 2 hours, but it goes by like lightning. Some of the stories may seem slight at first, so entertaining, it cant but be meaningless. But this aint the case, each director bringS something unique to the table, like another underseen triptych of recent, the Atlanta made horror film "The Signal", "Tokyo!'s" directors feel like a band, jamming together more than seperate artists trying to upstage each other, like in something like "Paris Je'Taime".
Funny, charming, dynamic, strange, scincere, absurd, movie making. A place of robots, amphibious mutants, mosterous trolls, magical transformations, and to quote Merde "eyes which look like a womans sex". Two frenchmen and a Korean, re-invent Japan the city which uprades itself more than any other, and we are all the better for it. What a strange bright future we live in.
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