Three half-hour Tokyo-set films by three famous non-Japanese filmmakers. I didn’t read the reviews very closely but I gather that some viewers thought the Michel Gondry segment about a struggling couple moving into the city and the Bong Joon-ho segment about socially-dysfunctional residents of an earthquake-prone Tokyo were pretty good and the Leos Carax segment about a sewer-dwelling monster was awful, and some viewers agreed that the Gondry and Bong were pretty good but thought the Carax was brilliant. A fan of Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge, I assumed I’d fall into the latter group, but I wound up finding the whole experience somewhat unsatisfying. By the time I finished watching six previews and an overlong ad for the film festival through an allergy-induced headache I was ready to go home already. Then the movies themselves, a far cry from Paris, je t’aime, seemed awfully down on their host city, and the whole thing was kind of a bummer (and a digital-video-looking bummer at that).
Gondry’s bit featured a wannabe-filmmaker come to the city with his first film, which turns out to be terrible, and his girlfriend (Ayako Fujitani of the Gamera trilogy) who feels like nobody notices her. There’s fanciful talk of dreams and ghosts, and in the end she turns into a piece of furniture, a wooden chair. She’s picked up by a musician, and finally finds happiness – to be of use.
After this portrait of selfish men in an inhospitable city, Carax dives right in with a sewer-dwelling monster (Denis Lavant, of Lovers on the Bridge and Chaplin in Mister Lonely) named Merde walking the street shoving and groping people and being a general nuisance. It’s all jolly and hilarious until he finds a cache of grenades in an underground cave, and on his next rampage he blows up a bunch of people and is arrested for murder. Now we get an achingly prolonged trial where the monster is represented by a lookalike (but more posh) lawyer (Jean-François Balmer of films by Ruiz, Chabrol, Akerman), who speaks our guy’s mythic language of grunts, whines and head-slaps. It’s all over-silly and over-serious at the same time, and I don’t know what to think when the unrepentant Lavant is hung at the end.
Bong tries to restore some whimsy to the proceedings with Shaking Tokyo. His story of a shut-in (Teruyuki Kagawa, in Serpent’s Path a decade ago, starring in the new Tokyo Sonata) is at least the most Japanese of the three stories, the reclusive “hikikomori” being a recent phenomenon of that country – as far as I’m concerned, the other two movies could be set in any major city. Due to an earthquake, our guy accidentally makes eye contact with another person for the first time in a decade, and that person is substitute pizza-delivery girl Yû Aoi, who has button-like tattoos representing different emotions – when one is pushed it determines how she feels. The next day, she decides to shut herself away in her room, along with seemingly everyone else in the city, while our guy steels himself and goes outside to search for her, leading to a cutey happy ending when he presses her LOVE button. The “earthquake changes everything” conceit reminded me of Chan-Wook Park’s short Judgement, and the empty city reminded me of Pulse.
Bong: “I had an image of the people of Tokyo as oddly repressed, defensively lonely… I think I had a desire to wake them up, shake up and liberate such people. That’s where the title, Shaking Tokyo came from and how the motif of the earthquake also came about.”
I guess I’m liking the three movies better now that I’m thinking about them, but at the time they didn’t seem to be working together and I wasn’t sure what the movie’s point was. I’m sure it’ll be like Eros or Three Extremes, where the omnibus concept disappears in time and I start to think of ’em as decent individual shorts.