Posted: 06/22/2009

 

Tokyo!

(2008)

by Jef Burnham



On DVD from Liberation Entertainment on June 30, 2009.


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The anthology film has never really caught on. The primary reason for this being that even though they are supposed to showcase the talents of a group of filmmakers, are rarely of artistic value. The trend, assuming your average anthology film is composed of 3 shorter films, if that one film among the bunch is great, one is mediocre, and the other is garbage. If there are more than 3 films, you can be assured that the additional films will fail to fall into the “great” category.

Tokyo! is a triptych of films set in the de-facto capital of Japan by directors Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge) and Bong Joon-Ho (The Host), respectively. At first, the idea of making an anthology film about Tokyo featuring no Japanese directors portends failure, but Gondry and Joon-Ho make films that are distinctly set in Tokyo, but are relevant in their focus on life in big cities rather than this city in particular.

Michel Gondry’s Interior Design (taken from Gabrielle Jordan’s graphic novel Cecil and Jordan in New York) opens the triptych, and is his second best work behind Eternal Sunshine in its universality and beauty—his usual quirky turns into the absurd carrying the film’s themes more comprehensively than ever before, as he examines a person’s struggle to lead a worthwhile existence amid the hustle of millions in a metropolis.

The second filmmaker featured in Tokyo! is Leos Carax with his film, Merde. Carax’s piece ultimately bears little relevance to Tokyo or the Japanese, as he chooses to focus his efforts on glorifying his pseudo-deity, the sewer-dwelling recluse named Merde (which means “shit” in French, by the way). Merde is striking at first, but later feels rather ineptly constructed, perhaps on purpose, considering Carax’s anarchist leanings. Essentially, this is a take on the classic Tokyo monster movies, replacing the giant monsters with the potentially alien form of Merde, with his curved beard and his inhuman mannerisms. In the end, however, this piece is very out of place in that it achieves so very little for all the grandeur of its production. Merde is the failure of this anthology.

Previous experience with anthologies would suggest, given that Gondry’s contribution is a substantial success and Carax’s piece is definitely the clunker, that Bong Joon-Ho’s Shaking Tokyo would be mediocre. Shaking Tokyo is in fact the masterpiece among the three. The film follows a hikikomori, or shut-in, who has been locked in his home for ten years with no human contact aside from the delivery men with whom he never makes eye contact. Joon-Ho’s contribution is as beautiful as it is concise in its affirmation of love and the necessity for human interaction, even in the vast cityscapes of Tokyo.

Tokyo!’s DVD release contains over two hours of special features, including a half-hour “making of” featurette on each of the three films, although only Gondry’s features interviews with the cast and crew. The other two featurettes are simply compilations of video shot during the shoot with no additional interviews or input. However, a separate feature contains a half hour of interviews with each of the three directors, as well as Gondry’s co-writer Gabrielle Jordan.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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