TOKYO! (2008), or So, Which Of You Is The Japanese One?

30 11 2009

Thanks to Goregirl for introducing me to this film! I would never have heard about it without you, I’m sure!

Tokyo is a magical city that inhabits my dreams some nights with its unreal size, its complex technological advances, and its dense culture. There’s such a mystique about it, and now I’m glad that I’m not alone in marveling at the world’s largest city. Today’s feature is a collaboration of sorts between 3 non-Japanese directors each making their own personal visions of the great city of Tokyo, 3 very different young directors with 3 very different ideas of what the city is and what is has to offer. It’s a philosophical, silly, at times disturbing look at Japan’s most famous city, and a seriously quirky look at its people and sociological niceties.

Michel Gondry directs the first feature, about a young couple drawn in from the country to live in the big city. They don’t have a lot of money and their stability leaves a lot to be desired, but they still have each other. Akira, the young man, is a young filmmaker who is struggling on his film, while his lady Hiroki feels alone and invisible during the creative process. When the film opens to negative reviews, Hiroki begins to feel distant  from Akira, and the effects of that in the city of Tokyo are a little more drastic than either she or Akira could ever have realized as Hiroki begins to physically change from the isolation… Leos Carax’s feature revolves around a white guy who comes up from the Tokyo sewers and acts terribly and nastily to everyone he sees. When he’s arrested for his behavior, a look-alike lawyer pops up and tries to get him off the hook. Bong Joon-h0’s feature revolves around a hermit and his serendipitous encounter with a pizza delivery girl during an earthquake. She inspires something in him, something that he has never felt before. For the first time in a decade, he might come out of his house to seek out this beautiful woman. But can he find her in all the hubbub of Tokyo? And what will the future hold for them, when he is a social idiot, and she is not all that she appears to be?

Each of the vignettes tells a story of lost communication, rediscovery, and transformation, either physical or mental. It’s a triptych of delicate stories that brings to mind some of the most beautiful imagery in the hands of these visionaries. These three directors have an amazing depth of imagination that takes the inanimate colossus of a city and gives it a demeanor all its own. Certainly, the road to the heart of Tokyo is murky and at times unreadable, but the journey is definitely worth the confusion. The stories aren’t exactly even; I’d definitely say that Bong Joon-ho had the most emotionally effective story, while Gondry’s was the most imaginative (with a slight nod to Kafka). Leos Carax’s story, entitled “Merde”, is the odd, odd man out. It is very good, but it’s the least visually impressive of the three. The style is bland and Carax just points the lens at things. And yet, it has the best story of the three. I don’t want to give anything away about it, but if anyone has any interpretations of it, I’d love to hear them in the comments section. If you do, I’ll give you mine in return.

Teruyuki Kagawa is probably my favorite actor here. He is the shut-in in Bong Joon-ho’s story. His subtleties are pretty authentic, at least as to what I’d imagine the realities of being a shut-in would be like. He’s very insecure, very suspicious about the world he left outside his door, and the he talks in that very quick dismissive way, as if words themselves are hindering his self-imposed exile. He does an excellent job, especially at the transformation of his character from loner to lovesick fool. The other real hero of this film for me is Mr. Merde, the nasty titular character of Carax’s story. He’s played by Denis Lavant to a great degree of oddness. Lavant chews up the scenery like a bulldozer, doesn’t have a clear motivation, and he generally just acts like an extra who walked accidentally in the frame. But, for some reason, I think it was entirely intentional. Because he isn’t just supposed to be repulsive, he’s also supposed to be foreign in every way, and the way Lavant plays him, you’d think he was from Hobo Mars. And I suppose he hits it right on the head there.

If you are as enchanted with Tokyo as I am, TOKYO! is the film for you. It’s in the vein of Paris, je t’aime or New York, I Love You, but I think this is a superior product to those because of its emotional and psychological inventiveness. It’s not necessarily a bright and cheery look at the city by any means, but it has an indelible beauty to it that is as undeniable as Tokyo’s charm. The people are weird, the situations are weirder, and it’s hard to decipher the meanings behind these young director’s images, but if you have the patience and the willingness to just go with TOKYO!, you’ll find it to be an enjoyable experience indeed. I give it 8 Hobo Marses out of 10!

Tomorrow I take on Network and I also start counting down the last 31 days of my 365 day movie sojourn!!!!! I’m frothing at the mouth with excitement! Oh, no, that’s just my rabies popping up! Oops!



2 responses

1 12 2009

I agree- Tokyo’s mystique is quite alluring; it’s the number one place I want to visit. I had mixed thoughts about this film. I really liked Bong Joon-ho’s entry (and if you want more of him, you should check out The Host or Memories of Murder), but wasn’t a fan of “Merde” because I was waaaaay too creeped out by the main character. Ugh I just wanted him to cut his nails. Apparently that short is supposed to be a reference to Godzilla, but I’ve never seen those movies. What did you think?

2 12 2009

I always thought that Merde was a reference to Aleph, or the Aum Shinrikyo, the weird religious group that conducted the Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subways in the 90s. It just seemed that way to me because of the subway, the gibberish Mr. Merde spoke, and the odd religious connotations at the end I didn’t want to cover in the review for fear of spoiling the twist. But Godzilla also makes since, if you consider the green jacket, his rampage across Tokyo, and his all-around bad vibe. Good thinking!

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