Friday, March 27, 2009

Reflect and Review: Tokyo!

Tokyo!, as you might have recently seen on our super awesome site here, is a recent foreign release that might currently be playing in an indie / art house movie theater near you. It is a compilation of 3 short films, by three different directors, all taking place in Tokyo.


Being an avid follower of Michel Gondry’s work, and knowing he did one of the three short films that Tokyo! is comprised of, I was down to see the flick from the word Go. Now, if you know Gondry, you know to expect quirkiness, high imagination, maybe some good laughs, and a visual style sure to make anyone smile. To be honest, I was a bit surprised to find an engaging drama about a young couple who are down on their luck and move to Tokyo, crashing with a friend until they can get on their feet. The sheer simplicity, unabashed realness and the raw emotion of such cramped quarters entranced me in a way I just wasn’t ready for. I was really getting into it – and, thusly almost forgot who had made the film until it had about 5 minutes left and the female lead slowly started turning into a wooden chair.

Right. Gondry.

This was a bit jarring at first, but in retrospect I think it fits. The film showed the story of this woman growing further from all she knows – her boyfriend, the friend she stays with – as she feels useless, accidentally getting their car towed and not being able to get a job. Then she turns into a chair, and is able to support people that need to sit, and she feels useful for the first time. Weird, but I get it, and it was well done.

The second film, Merde, was by Leos Carax. I’ve been thinking for a while now how to say this, and I can’t think of a better way, so here it is: This film was not very good. And yes, that’s being nice. Well, the cinematography was actually pretty excellent, but that’s all I can say here as a positive.

It opened with a pretty cool crane shot of Tokyo, which eventually zooms in on a manhole on a crowded sidewalk. It is opened from underneath, and Merde himself (merde is French for shit) climbs up. He is filthy, one eye has no pupil, and his beard pulls off to one side in a manner I wouldn’t be surprised to see catch on in Williamsburg, just so the hipsters could be … well, hip. It’s not hip. It’s stupid. Anyone, Merde walks up the street in this cool long take, essentially freaking people out and at one point licking a young girl’s armpit before finding another manhole to disappear into. After his escapades make the news, we see him back in the sewer where he stumbles on to a long forgotten WWII weapons cache. He obtains a satchel filled with live grenades (it made no sense to me either), and proceeds to climb up onto the street in the middle of Tokyo that I recognized from the Jet Set Radio level, it’s like a bus depot with these big walkways going over it … He blows a bunch of people up, and is later arrested for this. Ok, so now the film can get good, right?

Well, turns out he only speaks sewer mutant, and the only person who can communicate with him is a French lawyer who has the reverse look going on (his opposite eye has no pupil, and his beard flips the other direction). The lawyer visits Merde in his cell, and they have a 5 minute conversation in sewer mutant language with no subtitles.




Now, this is bad, but it begins a series of scenes where the Japanese people want to ask Merde things (in his cell or at his trial), but can’t communicate directly with either Merde or the lawyer, so you have one character speaking in Japanese, a translator says it in French (this is when there are subtitles), the lawyer repeats it in sewer mutant, Merde responds in mutant, lawyer repeats it in French (subtitles), translator gives the answer in Japanese. Sound tedious and annoying? Imagine an entire courtroom scene of this. We find out ( if we’re still paying attention and haven’t gouged our eyes out) Merde hates the Japanese because “Their eyes look like a woman’s sex.” Wow. So, they hang him, but it doesn’t take, he disappears and then it says he’ll be back to terrorize New York City.

Merde. Goodchild here. Just want to let you know. You come to my city, I’m going to kill you myself.

The third film was called Shaking Tokyo, and was by Bong Joon-Ho, who you might know if you like kick ass monster movies (he directed a film in his native Korea called The Host a few years back – if you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s awesome). It was about a hikikomori, a Japanese man who never leaves his house and has not made eye contact with another human for over 11 years. He receives money in the mail from his father and orders food and groceries to his house. Every Saturday he orders pizza, and one day he makes eye contact with the girl delivering the pizza. As he does, there is a slight earthquake, and the girl collapses into his “perfect” home. This rocks his world – he hasn’t had contact with the world in so long, and no it’s in his house. The girl leaves a lasting impression on him, and he finds out the next week that she has quit to become hikikomori like him. This shakes him, and he finds the strength to leave his house to find her. He does, and along the way he sees that she is not the only person who has recently decided to never leave her house again. When he finds her, there are another series of quakes which shake Tokyo to its core. The message here might have been a bit heavy handed, but it was quaint and cute, and well made and thought out enough that I liked it.

So, there it is. Two out of three isn’t bad, right? While the two films I liked were good enough to recommend for people to go see, the middle film is so poor, boring, vapid and full of itself that I can’t in good faith recommend this as a must see in the theater – wait until it’s on dvd, and then you can skip the shit. Which means Merde.

- Tokyo! Trailer

+ Tokyo! Review [Spout Blog]

- Goodchild

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