Interior Design *** ½
Directed By: Michel Gondry.
Written By: Michel Gondry based on the graphic novel by Gabrielle Bell.
Starring: Ayako Fujitani (Hiroko), Ayumi Ito (Akemi), Ryo Kase (Akira), Nao Omori), Satoshi Tsumabuki (Takeshi).
Directed By: Leos Carax.
Written By: Leos Carax.
Starring: Jean-François Balmer (Maître Voland), Denis Lavant (Merde).
Shaking Tokyo ***
Directed By: Joon-ho Bong.Written By: Joon-ho Bong.
Starring: Teruyuki Kagawa (Hikikomori), Yû Aoi (Pizza-Delivery Girl), Naoto Takenaka (Pizza-Delivery Man).
Movies like Tokyo always seem to be in theory they turn out in practical terms. This is a film that brings together three of the most daring filmmakers working today - French filmmakers Michel Gondry and Leos Carax along with Korean director Joon-ho Bong - and asks them to tell three different stories set in Tokyo. All three filmmakers deliver unique movies, but only one of them - Michel Gondry - delivers a truly exceptional film. The other two are more uneven. Yet, I do think that overall the film is worth watching, I have seen all three filmmakers do better work.
The first film is Gondry’s. It is about a young couple who move to Tokyo so that he can pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. They do not have a lot of money, and cannot find a decent apartment, so they are stuck in the tiny apartment of a friend, who grows more and more frustrated with them, particularly Hiroko, who unlike her boyfriend, seems to have no ambition at all. She cannot even get a lousy part time job as a gift wrapper. She starts to feel useless, until one day something strange happens to her, and she starts to feel useful again. What that is, I cannot say, but let me say that fans of Gondry’s weirdness will not be disappointed. Gondry, who I think has struggled a little since he had to start writing his own screenplays, has not made a film this good since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film has a great visual look, and as always the visual effects in his films are low budget, but great.
Leos Carax’s film, Merde, is the strangest and most ambitious, but the least successful. A strange man emerges from the sewers of Tokyo and torments the citizens. At first it’s little more than stealing cigarettes, and doing other harmless things. But when he comes across some hand grenades, things get more violent. Put on trial, they discover that he speaks some kind of archaic language that no one else understands. A French lawyer, who says he understands him, comes to defend him. The movie starts out interesting, and contains a wonderful tracking shot at the beginning, but as the movie progresses, it becomes tedious. Merde, the crazy sewer man, speaks his own strange language, that the French lawyer then has to translate into French, then has it translated in Japanese. Everything that is said takes forever to get out for us to understand. While it is an interesting idea, especially when Merde starts going off on his racist rants, it doesn’t quite together.
Joon-ho Bong does something quite interesting in his film. While Gondry and Carax use the vast expanse of Tokyo to full advantage, Bong’s film is about a hikikomori, essentially a shut in. He has no contact with the outside world, except for the food delivery men who come by. One day, a beautiful girl delivers his pizza, and they two connect. She has some of the same obsessions as he does, but when an earthquake hits, she gets scared, and decides to stay in her apartment, forcing him to go out in the world for the first time in years. While this film certainly cannot compete with Bong’s great films - Memories of Murder and The Host - it is an interesting film.
And that kind of sums up Tokyo as a complete movie as well. Like New York Stories or any number of other projects that have done something similar, the results are a little disappointing, as we know the directors are capable of better work, and the constraints of the project show at points. But all three of these films - even Carax’s which I didn’t much care for - are more interesting than most films I see. This may not be a great film, but it is an entertaining one.