Tokyo! (review)

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This triptypch of short flicks about the Japanese capital by non-Japanese filmmakers is wildly intriguing to me, as someone who has never been there but would like to visit — I wonder, though, how natives or familiar foreigners would parse the peculiarities of these disturbing urban fairy tales. French filmmaker Michel Gondry’s (The Science of Sleep) opening installment, “Interior Design,” is perhaps the most universal (and is, in fact, based on a graphic novel called “Cecil and Jordan in New York”): in it, a young woman (Ayako Fujitani) finds a way to cope with her sense that she is invisible and unnecessary not just to her filmmaker boyfriend (Ryo Kase) but to the world at large when they move to the titular city, which is huge and dehumanizing, as Gondry depicts it, to a gal not so confident in her own self. It’s a startling story that is both feminist in its intent, to highlight how useless the world can make women feel, and shockingly conservative, in the happy (to her) solution she finds. Another French filmmaker, Leos Carax (Pola X), offers us “Merde,” which tweaks the rampaging-monster genre by giving us a human monster/not-monster in actor Denis Lavant’s sewer dweller, a homeless man who rises up from the Tokyo underworld to terrorize the city: it’s the least successful of the three films, yet still totally captivating on its own for what it says about how we humans, regardless of culture, distance nonconformists. Finally, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (The Host) presents us with “Shaking Tokyo,” about that most Japanese of creatures, the willing shut-in (Teruyuki Kagawa), a young man who never leaves his home yet finds himself suddenly drawn to the pizza-delivery girl (Yû Aoi)… so much so that he forces himself to leave the known comforts of home in pursuit of her. The details are not such that New Yorkers or Londoners or Parisians will recognize, but in the grand scheme… the extremes to which love and attraction will push us will be very recognizable intend.

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