TOKYO! (Bong Joon-ho, Léos Carax, Michel Gondry, 2008)

A disappointing three-part film about contemporary Tokyo, unified by the theme of the transformative impression made by urban alienation and loneliness, Tokyo! fails to do for Japan’s biggest city what Paris, je t’aime (2007) did for Paris. The love, perhaps, is missing.
     Each segment was written and directed by someone else: French filmmakers Michel Gondry and Léos Carax, and South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho. Gondry’s “Interior Design” derives its deft resolution from Gabrielle Bell’s graphic novel Cecil and Jordan in New York. A young couple, newly moved to Tokyo, crowd the apartment and desire for privacy of a put-upon host. The man, a budding filmmaker, reimagines the city, while the city more or less reimagines the woman, reducing her to a purely practical existence either to complete or offset the marginalization that her boyfriend’s artistic self-involvement incurs. Visually, there is a wonderful aspect to the woman’s transformation.
     Carax’s stark “Merde” (as in Shit) satirizes the considerably moderated xenophobia and sense of racial superiority of the Japanese. Denis Lavant plays Merde, a white sewer rat with one eyeball turned around who creates as much mischief and mayhem as Mr. Hyde did in Victorian London; he accosts pedestrians, grabs whatever he wants out of their hands, and hurls grenades left over from the Sino-Japanese War. He is arrested and put on trial, where he needs to be interpreted because he speaks French. In short, the shirtless, barefooted oddball disrupts Tokyo’s modesty and tranquility. Hey, man, he’s a terrorist and needs, as Dick Cheney might put it, a little hanging.
     Bong’s “Hikikomoris” revolves around a hikikomori, someone who has withdrawn from society and stays secluded at home—an actual Japanese phenomenon, perhaps a response to urban overcrowding. In Bong’s filmlet, this man’s one connection to the outside world that so discombobulates him is his pizza delivery girl. Unfortunately, he contaminates her, turning her also into a hikikomori, thus requiring him to venture out in order to find her and correct his own psychic imbalance. The Tokyo into which he releases himself is wittily vacant of people, suggesting a Land of the Hikikomoris, until an earthquake—hence the alternative title “Shaking Tokyo”—brings people out into the streets.
     I liked Bong’s bit the best.

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