Friday, August 07, 2009

Tokyo! : Grade A

Tokyo! (2008)
Numerous unknown Japanese and French actors; Co-writers and Directors: Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-hoo Bong; French and Japanese (subtitled).

These three strange stories are not for everyone. They are weird and surreal, but beautiful, provocative, well-acted, well-directed and exceptionally creative Each film is about 30 minutes and produced by separate directors, crews and actors.

In Interior Design a broke young couple searches for their first apartment in Tokyo. The young man wants to be a filmmaker and we see samples of his fantasy work. The woman has no apparent direction, although we otice that she is a talented visual artist. He criticizes her for lacking ambition and direction and she becomes despondent and turns into a wooden chair. Yes. The story reminds me of Kobo Abe’s 1967 one-act play, The Man Who Turned Into a Stick.

In the second film, Merde, A deranged man who lives in the sewers surfaces to terrorize Tokyo. He is arrested but there are only three people in the world who speak his strange language. The film has a lot of fun with how arbitrary languages can seem. Monsieur Merde’s special language involves hoots, whines, guttural noises, tapping the teeth with a fingernail and slapping of the right side one’s own face with the left hand. It’s hilarious, but a careful observer will note that the language sounds are culled from actual human languages, and that there is a definite syntax to the made-up language. The linguistic games reminded me of the synthetic language in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It could be an overdeveloped theme for those not as interested in language. What does Mr. Merde stand for? He is definitely from the sewers and that metaphor could be taken literally. There is also a suggestion that he represents Uncle Sam or at least, non-Japanese foreigners in general.

Finally there is Shaking Tokyo, about a man who has become a recluse, living inside his Tokyo apartment without seeing anyone for ten years. He orders his pizza and dry cleaning by phone, until one day there is an earthquake and he accidentally makes eye contact with the attractive young pizza delivery girl. Eventually he leaves the house to search for her and finds the streets empty and the city deserted. Everyone has become a recluse! Apparently this is a real social problem in Tokyo, and it is understandable, the population pressure being so enormous in that city.

Any one of these films is a gem. All three of them are mind-spinning. There are interesting DVD extras, each as long as its film. Highly recommended for the adventurous.

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