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Where EAST meets the Northwest

TAKES ON TOKYO. Tokyo!, directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong, is a trio of short films ó (clockwise from top left) Interior Design, Shaking Tokyo, and Merde ó set in Tokyo. The films examine the nature of the city as itís shaped by the disparate people who live, work, and run amok inside the enormous, constantly evolving, densely populated Japanese megalopolis. (Photos courtesy of Liberation Entertainment)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #29 (July 28, 2009), page 11.

Three unique, inventive film directors tackle Tokyo and loneliness

Tokyo!

Directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong

Produced by Masa Sawada and Michiko Yoshitake

Distributed by Liberation Entertainment

DVD, 112 minutes, $24.95

By Toni Tabora-Roberts

Tokyo! is an omnibus film project including the work of directors Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong. All three directors are known for their inventive, artistic filmmaking perspectives, making Tokyo! an interesting, visually exciting, and sometimes challenging trio of films. Along with their unique techniques and use of Tokyo as the central location, the three films also share themes of loneliness, longing, and struggles coping with contemporary human existence.

Interior Design

The first film is Michel Gondryís Interior Design. The French film and music video director is probably best known for his Academy Award-winning film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As with Eternal Sunshine and most of his work, Interior Design employs the use of unusual surrealist imagery and fantastical elements.

The story follows young, hip Hiroko. She and her experimental filmmaker boyfriend Akira have just moved to Tokyo. While Akira is passionately focused on his art and even his menial day job, itís clear Hiroko is directionless and unhappy. Akira implies that she lacks ambition, to which Hiroko unconvincingly retorts, "I like photography and art, Iíve got a boating license, and I read a lot, too." As they go through the trials of establishing themselves in a new city, Hiroko ends up taking an unusual path to finding her place in the world.

Though the first half of Interior Design is a bit slow going, itís ultimately a whimsical and satisfying story about discovering passion and purpose.

Merde

The middle film, Merde, is by Leos Carax, a well-regarded but sparsely producing French director. Carax has made only four feature films in his 25-year career, and his latest, Pola X, was released a decade ago. Merde translates to "sh*t" in French, and here itís absurdly revealed to be the name of the unusual creature at the center of the film. Of the three shorts, Caraxís farce is probably the most bizarre and disturbing. It feels the most like an art film.

We first meet Merde as he rises from the sewer through a manhole. He is a strange sight to behold, with a dirty, ill-fitting green suit, one milky eye, a twisted red beard, and long, curly fingernails and toenails. "Creature of the sewer," as heís dubbed by straight-faced news anchors, Merde seems part caveman, part monster, part leprechaun, part elf. And heís not friendly, violently eating flowers and money and licking innocent bystanders as he stomps down busy Tokyo sidewalks.

Eventually, Merde is labelled a terrorist and put on trial for the destruction heís caused. A French lawyer named Mr. Voland, who seems to be a clean and functional cousin to Merde (with the same milky eye and red beard), claims to be the only person who can communicate with the strange creature. Voland becomes Merdeís defense lawyer in the nationally televised, wildly sensational trial.

Merde packs quite a lot in a short time. The film cleverly (and, at times, tediously) hints at issues such as immigration, terrorism, and media saturation.

Shaking Tokyo

Rounding out Tokyo! is South Korean director Joon-ho Bongís Shaking Tokyo. Bongís breakthrough film was the international box-office hit Memories of Murder, about the first serial murders on record in Korea. Most recently he directed the hit monster movie The Host.

The unnamed male protagonist (The Man) of Shaking Tokyo reveals in voiceover that he is hikikomori ó the Japanese term describing individuals who completely withdraw from society, choosing to never leave home.

The phenomenon in Japan usually occurs with teenage boys who might not leave their parentsí home for years. The Man, then, is not quite typical, as he is grown and lives alone. He is, however, still supported by his parents financially, allowing him to do virtually everything by phone and delivery.

The Manís home is pristine and orderly, with wall-to-wall neatly stacked books, toilet paper rolls, and empty pizza boxes. Itís been more than 10 years since heís had direct eye contact with anyone, not even the delivery people who come to his door.

One day, the Pizza Girl compels The Man to look at her. At that moment, an earthquake hits and the Pizza Girl falls into a coma on his floor. This one event turns the hikikomoriís tidy, routine life into chaos.

Shaking Tokyo is a slick, methodical, and strange adventure. Bong creates a world infused with quiet fear and isolation.

Tokyo! is an engaging, provocative, and quirky delicacy of film. Given that they were created separately, the three films work together surprisingly well. The DVD is a nice treat, especially for an art house trio of films with established, notable directors. Special features include behind-the-scenes documentaries of each film, a photo gallery, and the original Tokyo! trailer, in addition to interviews with the directors and collaborators.

Tokyo! is now available on DVD. To learn more, visit <www.tokyothemovie.com>.