Tokyo! (Liberation Entertainment, NR)

film_tokyo_sm.jpgThe thing I can’t explain is that I managed to get excited about it.







A few years ago, Paris, Je T’aime beat the odds and was a memorable portmanteau about a city I’ve never been to. Generally speaking, I dislike this sort of film, which is made up of short films by various directors on one loose subject and all cobbled together and released as a feature. Even RoGoPaG, the 1963 film that had segments by Jean-Luc Godard, Roberto Rossellini, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, managed to suck, and those are three of the greatest directors in cinema history. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the new city-themed film of this sort, Tokyo!, comes so shortly after Paris‘ success. The thing I can’t explain is that I managed to get excited about it, too, despite the odds against its type.

Tokyo! contains only three shorts (as opposed to Paris‘ 18): the first one is Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) "Interior Design," the second is Leos Carax’s (Pola X) "Merde," and the final one is Bong Joon-ho’s (The Host) "Shaking Tokyo." I’m a fan of all three directors, and I’m also a sucker for Tokyo-centric films, so if there ever was a film like this I would like, this is it.

And like it I did, though maybe not a lot. Typically one can expect some—maybe a third, if you’re lucky—of the shorts to be good, and the rest to be varying degrees of bad. All three of Tokyo!‘s shorts are good, but none of them are great enough to make me really compelled to tell people to go out and see it.

"Interior Design" comes first, which seems sort of odd, seeing as how Gondry’s name is the most likely of the three to bring audiences to the theater. The best of the three, though, is from the director that both I and presumably most of the rest of Tokyo!‘s potential audience know the least about; Carax directs Denis Lavant (Chaplin from Mister Lonely) as the titular character (yes, his character’s name is Merde), an extremely creepy sewer dweller who occasionally climbs to the surface, causes havoc for a few minutes, and disappears again. Carax and Lavant create a horror villain workable enough here in 40 minutes that they easily could have draped a feature-length film on his shoulders.

Gondry’s and Bong’s respective films are fun and watchable, too, though they don’t quite stick in your memory as solid as old "Merde" does. And if it matters to you, none of the three of the films really have all that much to do with Tokyo itself, so don’t go in expecting a travelogue; in fact, if the three films have anything to say about Tokyo at all, it is probably negative. In this regard, it is somewhat telling that the closing credits are in French (the film itself is a Japanese/French/German/South Korean joint production), and that two of the three directors are French. Maybe France is just trying to exact revenge on all of the foreigners brought on to make a film about their most beloved city. | Pete Timmermann

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