Tuesday, October 21, 2008

London Film Festival Day 7 - TOKYO!

TOKYO! is a three part movie comprising three thirty-five minute shorts loosely linked by surreal goings-on in Tokyo. The first and most successful segment is directed by Michel Gondry called INTERIOR DESIGN. An aspiring art-house film director and his supportive girlfriend are struggling to make ends meet. They’re camping out at her friend’s cramped apartment, dodging questions about how long they’re thinking of staying, and taking menial work to pay the fine to get their car out of the pound. One day, the girlfriend, fed up with being the artist’s practical support, finds herself turning into a sturdy wooden chair! And, once in this state, she’s picked up by a random passer by who takes her/it to his flat. There, she carves a contented existence, providing practical support when he’s at home and living a nice unhurried life as a real girl when he’s not. It’s a rather touching and bizarre little film.

The next segment, directed by Leos Carax, slips nicely from simply odd to scarily ghoulish. One day, a disfigured man with a red-beard emerges from a sewer and causes havoc in downtown Tokyo, despite the fact that he’s not actually doing anything more threatening that being unwashed and insolent – that is until he stumbles upon a box of hand grenades. He’s picked up by the authorities and we get very funny news reports showing that the government’s first reaction is to tighten immigration laws. The strange man is eventually tried and sentenced to death on the urgings of the ultra-nationalists, but to everyone’s chagrin is reluctant to die. He may hate people, especially Japanese people, but he love’s life! MERDE is a provocative short, taking some nice pot shots at media hype and showing real visual flair in the scenes in the courtroom and on death row. I guess you could also read something into it regarding the Japanese attitude to foreigners, but it was fairly ambiguous.

The final segment is a film by Joon-ho Bong (THE HOST) about an obsessive-compulsive hermit whose perfectly ordered and repetitive life is disturbed when he falls for a pizza delivery girl. She’s so moved by the perfection if his apartment that she hands in her notice and decides to become a hermit too, forcing him to leave his apartment for the first time in eleven years to meet her. SHAKING TOKYO is a bittersweet, delicate romance featuring a moving central performance and lovely production design. It's a million miles away from THE HOST, which might, however, disappoint fans.

Overall, I remain unconvinced about these collections of shorts. The links between the segments always feel forced, although they’re clearer here than in the random jumble of PARIS JE T’AIME. I can’t say that I got any greater insight into the segments by virtue of watching them back to back. Nonetheless, whether viewed together or singly, they make for interesting viewing.

TOKYO! played Cannes and London 2008. It was released earlier this year in Japan and is currently on release in France and Singapore. It goes on limited release in the US on December 5th.

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