Directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Bong Joon-Ho
Opens Fri., April 10
Anthology films are like communism or the rhythm methodthings that work much better in theory than actual practice. Sure, the prospect of teaming up a bunch of top-shelf directors for similarly themed shorts is certainly tantalizing, but as indicated by every attempt from New York Stories to Paris, Je Taime, the best you can usually hope for is a mixed bag with maybe one gem buried in there somewhere.
Tokyo! is collection of three half-hour shorts by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-Ho, about guess which big city in Japan. Its a good deal more consistent than the erratic Paris, but only because the films are longer and the directors seem to have gotten together and agreed in advance that they were all going to be as obtuse as humanly possible. More thematically consistent than most anthology flicks, Tokyo! is about the dehumanizing effects of living in a metropolis. Its also about bad metaphors.
First up is Gondrys Interior Design. Based on a comic by Gabrielle Bell, it stars Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase as a young couple moving to Tokyo from the sticks. While overstaying their welcome on an old friends sofa bed and losing their car to a merciless towing company, the lovers find themselves changed by life in the big city. Gondry seems more interested in the cramped apartments and set dressings than his characters, a choice that only makes sense once Fujitani transforms into a wooden chair. (Didnt I warn you about the bad metaphors?)
Leos Caraxs aptly titled Merde is another one of those stories about a giant green monster terrorizing Tokyo. Well, sort of. This monster is Denis Levant in an emerald suit, and he periodically emerges from the sewers to run through these crowded streets shouting incoherent gibberish, licking young women and tossing grenades. The shorts centerpiece, a trial during which Levants political rants are translated from nonsense to French to Japanese and back again, will strike you as either the most brilliant or dumbest thing youve seen in a while. Count me in the latter camp.
Best in show goes to Bong Joon-Ho, whose Shaking Tokyo begins quite promisingly with Teruyki Kagawa as an agoraphobic hermit snapped out of his funk by the bewitching charms of a tattooed pizza delivery girl.
An earthquake helps, too. Theres a delicacy and real tenderness to Bongs segment, at least early on, before it also devolves into mannered abstraction. By the time the robot showed up, Id checked out.