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TOKYO! (French & Japanese)

  Publicity Stills of "Tokyo!"
(Courtesy of Festive Films)

In Japanese and French with English Subtitles
Director: Bong Joon-Ho, Leos Carax, Michel Gondry
Cast: Kagawa Teruyuki,
Aoi You, Jean- Francois Balmer, Denis Lavant, Ayako Fujitani, Kase Ryo, Ayumi Ito
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: Festive Films
Rating: M18 (Some Nudity)
Official Website: www.festivefilms.com/tokyo/

Opening Day: 16 October 2008


Three short films (Interior Design, Merde and Shaking Tokyo) compose the movie. Each segment is freely inspired by Tokyo and shot in the heart of the city.
"TOKYO!" is a symphony interpreted in three dissonant parts, reflecting the image of the metropolis.

INTERIOR DESIGN by Michel GONDRY : the surreal fable of a young couple who moves to Tokyo in search of a future. While the boy's ambition is clear - be a movie maker- the girl drifts gradually apart. Both of them will be drowned in the imensity until the girl, feeling alone, discovers something strange …

MERDE by Leos CARAX: a mysterious man spreads confusion on the streets of Tokyo through a succession of irrational and provocative acts. " The Creature of the Sewers " as the media have dubbed him, arouse passion or repulsion. He will be captured, judged and then…

SHAKING TOKYO by BONG Joon-Ho: He is a hikikomori - like many others in Japan, he has withdrawn from all contact with the outside world .When the pizza delivery girl faints during an earthquake, the unthinkable happens - the man falls in love. Will he take the unimaginable step: leaving the dead security of his apartment for the streets of Tokyo ?

Movie Review:

Wow. I was pretty bowled over by this series of really quaint, surreal and quirky short films on Tokyo. Three directors, with three very distinctive storytelling styles, present three very compelling and interesting films all shot in Tokyo itself.

I have decided to review them separately (since they do exist in sort of their own individual worlds):

Interior Design

The weakest of the three, but nevertheless, still a winner on its own. It starts out normal; a story about a young down-and-out couple trying to make ends meet in Tokyo, but quickly takes a strange turn. The main character here is the girl – dull, and ambitionless – who struggles to meet the needs that the couple requires while unconsciously neglecting her own.

After being hit by a strong wave of reality (witnessing the fruits of her other half’s labour, overhearing a conversation about her), the girl transforms into a half-chair, half-woman being who comes to the conclusion that she’s happy being a tangible object that’s useful to her owner – a man who picks her up after her first night as a chair.

This quirky and offbeat movie drives a simple message about the importance of non-conformation to societal needs –the opposite’s a pressing issue especially in Japan where the pressure to excel is crazy –: the need to co-exist with others and yet, not lose your own identity and aspirations.

The movie had a couple of funny moments especially during a screening of the boyfriend/up and coming director’s advant garde movie, which involved a lot of smoke, and when she interchanges between chair and woman to hide her identity.


This movie pokes fun at the obsessive and clinical nature of the Japanese, in a country where there’s a strong love-hate relationship with their prevalent otaku culture. Throughout the short film, we see figurines and graphic symbols made in the likeness of Merde: a red-haired and bearded “gaijin” (Japanese for foreigner) who appears from deep within the sewers and terrorizes the people – look out for some brilliant scenes where he discards grenades like rubbish in a sea of Japanese civilians, ironically, all carrying similarly designed umbrellas.

At the same time, Merde, which in French means shit, carefully juggles sensitive topics without being in your face and entirely insensitive. Also, in light of the recent killings at Akihabara – although not entirely similar, it is extremely understandable how, as a result of societal pressure, a god or monster can be born.

Shaking Tokyo

So those who keep track of current affairs, you should know about “hikikomoris”. For those who don’t, it is a “Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive individuals who have chosen to withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement due to various personal and social factors in their lives” (wikipedia). That virtually describes ¾ of the movie; we follow the emptiness of a male hikikomori who is unsurprisingly, detached from the world he lives in, as he meets a female, who’s as empty as he is, in an unexpected manner.

The shots are beautifully done, and they convey a certain muted sense of fragility and hope throughout without being too overpowering. Of course, nothing less is expected from Bong Joon-ho, who directed the brilliant movie, “The Host”.

All in all, an intelligent film with an interesting enough premise that can be made into a full-length movie.

Highly recommended for those with a raging passion for anything “Nihon (Japan)”, you have to watch this to get three interesting perspectives of Tokyo. For someone so used to watching films of and reading about Japan through the eyes of a Japanese, these films directed by non-Japanese natives inject a certain sort of glamour and flavour that lingers even long after the credits have rolled.

Movie Rating:

(Suki desu yo! = I like it!)

Review by Casandra Wong


. Be Kind Rewind (2008)

. Priceless (2007)

. Paris, je t'aime (2006)


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