Tokyo!
a review by Darby O’Gill

In the spirit of Four Rooms and Paris, Je T’aime comes Tokyo! a collection of three short films about Tokyo, as told by three visionary directors, Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho. We’re going to take a look at the three films individually, and then rate the project as a whole.

First we have “Interior Design” by New York based French director Michel Gondry. Gondry based his short on a graphic novel by Gabrielle Bell, called “Cecil and Jordan in New York.” In Gondry’s version, it’s the story of a young couple moving to Tokyo, and crashing at a friend’s flat as they look for one of their own. Hiroko, played by Ayako Fujitani, was the more together of the couple, but seems to find herself being the less than useful one in Tokyo. As days turn into weeks, Hiroko finds herself more and more out of place. Until one day a strange event leads her to find her place in the world. All the stories in this collection are that of surrealism, but Gondry’s is definitely the most surreal. Wonderfully shot, and with an amazing special effect shot you would only come to expect from Michel Gondry.

Next we have “Merde” by French director Leos Carax. Now I have to say this one surprised me. Not the short itself, but the fact that it wasn’t directed by Bong Joon-Ho. I honestly watched this entire short thinking it was Joon-Ho, and even thought I was seeing signs of his film style throughout. Wow. It’s not Bong Joon-Ho, but it is Leos Carax’s short, and quite simply the best of the collection. It’s the story of a “creature,” or more like a homeless full grown leprechaun, that crawls out of the sewers and wreaks havoc on the streets of Tokyo. A frightened Tokyo reports various sightings of the creature on the news and even holds a bizarre trial for the creature. I mean, you can see why I thought it was Joon-Ho: a creature that lives in the sewer, has a smoky white eye, spreads horror across Tokyo via newscasts, and is a plot heavily laced with offbeat humor. This short is fantastic! The cinematography is amazing and the performance of Denis Lavant as the creature is purely stellar. “Merde” is anything but shit. I would love to see more of this story some day.

And now, sadly, we have to talk about the last short in this collection, “Shaking Tokyo,” by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho. I honestly have to say, that I was really looking forward to this director’s piece. The Host was an amazing film that I’m so glad I heard about in time to be able to see it when it opened in theatres, and was more than excited to see something new from its director Bong Joon-Ho. I just wish it was “Merde” and not “Shaking Tokyo.” The story in “Shaking Tokyo,” is that of a man that is a shut-in that has shut himself out of the outside world for the last ten years, but it’s in the eleventh year that his world crashes down around him. I’ve got to say this story is really weak. It wants to be grand; but it’s a short, and doesn’t have the time to take its time. It also keeps the viewer in the dark, which is the case in all three of these stories. But, in “Shaking Tokyo” it keeps you in the dark, and never really lets you know what the hell is going on. Joon-Ho has an amazing sense of the characters in his films, and this is no different. His characters don’t have to say a word, and yet just looking at them through his lens seems to speak a thousand words. I only wish the story had more time, to make it worth telling. It’s just sad that the movie has to end its collection with this short. It might have been better off in the middle of the film.

Rating:

3.5 Little People


DVD Special Features:

  • Making of “Interior Design”
  • Making of “Merde”
  • Making of “Shaking Tokyo”
  • Director Interviews
  • Photo Gallery
  • Trailer

The “Making of” featurettes are outstanding! No, truly. They’re even longer than the short films themselves. Each one gives you an amazing look into the very distinct directing style of each visionary director. Gondry likes to keep the film rolling. By doing so he feels it doesn’t let the actors get out of the moment. It’s quite ingenious really, because when a film crew cuts, they stop down for a good ten or twenty minutes. Hair and make-up step in, the lighting team checks lights, and actors stop being their characters. This concept is new to the “Tokyo!” actors working on “Interior Design,” and it takes a little while to warm-up to the idea of not cutting at the end of a take. Also, during the behind the scenes interview with Ayumi Ito, it sounds like someone’s having sex in the background, but it’s just the interviewer. It took me a few minutes to figure out. She should just quietly listen to what the actors have to say.

When it comes to Leos Carax, I was amazed to find out that he shot the first street scene at least, without a permit and in a total gorilla filmmaking style. In his “Making of,” we watch the cast and crew rehearse, step by step, the pacing of the scene off site. It’s truly filmmaking at its best. Also, watching Carax and Lavant develop the character of the creature is fantastic. Which brings us once again to Bong Joon-Ho, but this time it’s good news. His “Making of” finally let us in on what he was trying to say. I think the real downfall of his short is that he’s not the type of director that can be rushed or given a time restraint. I’ve never seen a director pay more attention to the timing of a shot and his actors, almost to a fault. But it’s clear that is what makes his filmmaking so unique. Sadly, this project just doesn’t lend itself to that style of filmmaking. The one saving grace is that in the “Director Interviews,” it seemed clear, to me that is, that even Joon-Ho wasn’t pleased with the outcome of his short. Seeing him talk about what he was trying to do in the short definitely helps you see the short in a different light; but it still doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t work.

DVD Special Feature Rating:

4 Little People



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