Three of the world's greatest filmmakers come together for an omnibus triptych examining the nature of one unforgettable city as it's shaped by the disparate people who live, work (and even run amok!) inside one enormous, constantly evolving, densely populated Japanese megalopolis - the ravishing and inimitable Tokyo.
A cinematic triptych of three Tokyo-set stories.
Tokyo! is a strange movie. Very strange. Like Paris, je t'aime before it, Tokyo! is a complication movie, with numerous disconnected stories by different directors, set in a major city. However, unlike Paris, je t'aime, which has twenty directors telling twenty different stories, Tokyo! only has three segments. Each story in Tokyo! is almost 40 minutes long, compared to 10 minutes in the stories set around Paris.
The movie opens with French director Michel Gondry — who directed one of my favourite movies; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — in a segment named "Interior Design". The story features a young couple who, having just arrived in Tokyo, are lodging with a friend in a tiny apartment while they find jobs and accommodation of their own. The segment is well shot, but the story is quite slow as it follows the couple as their relationship appears to break down. Then comes the Gondry touch and the final five minutes of the segment go a little strange.
And strange they stay throughout the rest of the movie.
The second segment is directed by Leos Carax, another French director, although one I didn't know. He directed probably the strangest piece of cinema I've seen in a long while, called "Merde". The opening features an disgusting looking subterranean human as he runs down a busy Tokyo street attacking unsuspecting locals, stealing their cash and cigarettes. This energetic and bizarre introduction is just the start. After a murderous rampage, killing innocent people by hurling hand grenades, he is locked up. He communicates in complete gibberish, ticks and hand gestures. A lawyer, a dead ringer for the creature, is able to communicate and represents him in a court where he on trial for the death penalty. This story has some interesting ideas and characters but had some trouble with pacing. I also felt the story wasn't as well rounded as the other segments.
Korean director Joon-ho Bong directs the final segment. Bong is probably critically known for Memories of Murder, a crime thriller based on the true story of South Korea's first known serial murders. But he rose to international spotlight with his fun monster movie The Host. His segment, titled "Shaking Tokyo", features a man who is called a "Hikikomori", a hermit. We are told he hasn't left his house in ten years and follow his mundane existence in his house. He talks about his books and orders pizza until one day a woman delivers a pizza has he is broken from his spell, making eye contact and talking to the young woman. Woken from his dream state he dares to find the woman, who herself has decided to become a recluse.
"Shaking Tokyo" was probably my favourite segment of the three. It was wonderfully shot and the protagonists acting was very good, especially considering he had to carry the segment himself. The story was simple but quirky, touching and optimistic. I liked the main character in "Merde" and I would like to see more about him, especially his origins. He was crazy but very interesting and I applaud the script writing and direction which showed depth in the character, yet was able to maintain his mystery – especially in such a short movie. Gondry's "Interior Design" was a little boring, except for the surprise last five minutes which I absolutely loved.
There is clearly a lot of symbolism in each segment and each no doubt touch on something very specific within the Japanese culture. However, I was unable to extract any specifics except there seems to be an overarching theme of loneliness or isolation throughout the entire movie.
All three segments are beautifully filmed. The cinematography is great and each segment has it's own style without detracting from the overall feel. I think the movie worth a watch, especially if you're a fan of strange, Japanese culture or any of the directors and I definitely feel impelled to re-watch the segments again, although probably individually.