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!

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), or I Can’t Ever Forget You

19 11 2009

The world needs more imaginative people like Michel Gondry. Where are all the artistic savants like him in our generation? To be fair, I don’t know how many like him existed before him, so it’s hard to gauge where they all “went”. Not since the exuberance of the 60s and the hyper-colorful Russo-Finnish co-productions like Jack Frost and The Day the Earth Froze, where imagination was plentiful on the wings of fantasy and adventure, has a director brought such a palpable excitement to the screen. Gondry’s films, while not always very dense, still engross with an emotional connection to the characters and the material that are impossible to ignore. Today’s film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a contemplative, if not shallow, look at a modern, complicated romance that has some wildly imaginative aspects to it.

A man named Joel and a woman named Clementine meet one day on a cold winter morning. They click almost instantly and chat the day away. Even though they don’t at first seem very compatible, it seems insignificant compared to the fun they’re having with each other. Strangely, though, there is a scientific reason the two are attracted to one another; they used to be a couple, but they just don’t remember. In the film, a new procedure has come into popularity called Targeted Memory Erasure that people are using to erase painful memories from their lives. These two people were in a failing relationship and, in haste, decided that the thought of remembering one another was too much and went ahead with the procedure. Most of the film takes place in the man’s head during the procedure as his memories melt away. He is forced to relive a number of the good times and the bad times with Clementine as they slip away from him one by one. The more he looks at what he had with her, though, the more he begins to realize that perhaps he had made a mistake in asking to be rid of the memories. As he clings to his old life with her, the world they created in his consciousness begins to collapse, and Joel desperately searches for something that will perhaps stick with him as he loses one of the most important people in his life.

What a fascinating idea. An idea like this, in the wrong hands, could have ended disastrously, but in the capable hands of Gondry and wunderkind Charlie Kaufman, this film came out almost flawlessly. You are transported to a world of dreamlike memories falling away in the face of what looks more and more to be a terrible mistake. It’s as terrifying as it is tragic, and its inevitability bears down upon our hearts every second, even though we still secretly hope for a second chance between Joel and Clementine. The world inside Joel’s mind is equally impressive as a visual spectacle. The way the memories manifest themselves, be they half-remembered words and ideas, sketchy faces, childhood fears revisiting the adult manifestation of Joel, or endless loops of seemingly unimportant details all are lovingly rendered in a style that is both technically impressive and emotionally stirring.

This sumptuous feast for the mind is bolstered by breakout performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. While I never expected any less from the real deal actress Winslet, Carrey genuinely surprised me. As Joel, he made me feel so deeply for him that it shook me to my core as an ol’ softie. There is such a vulnerability there that I never saw before, would have never imagined before. He changed my opinion of him forever with this role, and for the first time I can look at Jim Carrey as a seriously talented actor with a range that can only be described as phenomenal. But let’s not forget that Kate deserves her due for being half of this depressing relationship. Clementine is a free-spirit who doesn’t like being told what to do, doesn’t like boundaries, and it hurts her when Joel seeks to reign her in and cull her with the rest of the herd. There are a number of scenes in which Kate showcases an emotional range that solidifies her as one of the greatest actresses of this decade, and even with badly-died blue hair I can take a woman like her seriously.

I’m keeping this one short for an essay later, but don’t let that keep you from watching it. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not only an amazing movie and a classy reference to Alexander Pope, but also a hypnotically powerful drama wrapped in the mysterious language of dreams. Michel Gondry creates visual masterpieces in this film destined to become a classic. The cast and crew is stellar, and while not everybody makes much of an impact as a character (almost nobody does) the leads carry their peculiar weight with dignity and poise that I appreciated. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I give Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 9 ol’ softies out of 10. A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I don’t know what I’ll watch, but it will definitely be something new! Until then!