Tokyo Calling

sarristokyo 1h Tokyo CallingTokyo!
Running time 112 minutes
Written and
directed By Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho
Starring Ayako Fujitani, Ryo Kase, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ayumi Ito

Tokyo! (in Japanese with English subtitles) consists of three short films: Michel Gondry’s Interior Design, Leos Carax’s Merde and Bong Joon-Ho’s Shaking Tokyo. All three pieces contain surreal elements that convey the endless tumult and impermanence of a metropolis that, unlike the other great cities of the world, is constantly changing in the steady swirl of humanity and neon.

Interior Design relates the problems facing a provincial couple, Hiroko and Akira (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase), arriving in Tokyo with the promise of short-term lodging, and with limited cash. Hiroku is an aspiring and self-confident filmmaker, carrying around a finished experimental film that he will try to peddle to the studios. Akira, by contrast, feels insecure because of her lack of vocation. Hence, whereas Hiroko immediately gets a job wrapping gifts in a department store, Akira remains unemployed and unemployable. The couple’s temporary shelter is a small apartment of Akira’s former school classmate, Akemi (Ayumi Ito). When Akemi’s boyfriend begins asking loudly in the other room when her friends are planning to leave the uncomfortably cramped apartment, Hiroko and Akira feel compelled to accelerate their apartment hunting. Still, Akira becomes increasingly despondent over her seeming uselessness, and decides to make a bizarre change in her very identity as a human being.

During all the couple’s travails, a glimpse is afforded us of many of the less desirable sections of Tokyo. This worm’s eye view, as it were, enables Hiroko to ruminate about the many gaps between buildings, thereby allowing ghosts to haunt these gaps.

Merde, the French expletive as pungent as its generally unprintable English-language synonym for excrement, is the title of a low-voltage horror movie with the aptly named title character springing out of the Tokyo sewers to rob and assault pedestrians in one of Tokyo’s most fashionable shopping districts. When this monstrous miscreant discovers a cache of World War II grenades in the sewer, his assaults become more lethal. Finally, he is captured and sentenced to hang despite the efforts of a French publicity-seeking defense attorney. Mr. Carax’s work is the most satirical and derisive of the three segments, with respect to both Tokyo and its supposedly media-obsessed citizens.

The third part of the Tokyo! trilogy, Shaking Tokyo, features Teruyuki Kagawa as a Tokyo shut-in, or hikikimori, who has not left his apartment in 10 years. He communicates with the outside world solely through his telephone, which he utilizes mostly to order pizzas for his sustenance, and then meticulously stacks the empty pizza boxes in symmetrical rows that take up most of the space in his tiny apartment. He pays for the pizzas with money mailed to him by his father. He makes it a point never to make eye contact with the people who deliver the pizzas. Then one day he happens to look up into the eyes of a beautiful young deliverywoman, and as he stands there transfixed, there is a rumbling and shaking from an earthquake, at which point the young woman faints at the shut-in’s feet. When she regains consciousness, she quickly departs on her bicycle. The shut-in is so determined to find her that he ventures out on the street for the first time in a decade. Along the way, a second earthquake drives a great number of other shut-ins into the street, where they stand in collective perplexity. The earthquake also coincides with the shut-in’s second encounter with the one great love of his life. As Tokyo shakes, two lives hang in the balance.

Michel Gondry is best known for his 2004 breakthrough comedy feature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Leos Carax for the 1991 Les Amants du Pont-Neuf; and Bong Joon-Ho for the 2006 Korean monster film The Host. The cumulative strangeness of Tokyo! is consistent with the previous eccentricities of the three directors, and is well worth the time of any moviegoer looking for something different in their movie diet.

asarris@observer.com