A cinematic triptych of three Tokyo-set stories- Shaking Tokyo, Interior Design and Merde.
Shaking Tokyo- A hikikomori (hermit) has not left his apartment in a decade. His only link to the outside world is his telephone., which he uses to get everything he needs, including pizzas that he lives on. One day, a lovely young woman delivers pizza to him when an earthquake strikes. The woman fainted in his apartment and the hikikomori falls in love with her. Time passes and he learns that his love has become a hikikomori. Taking a bold leap into the unknown, he crosses the threshold of his apartment and takes to the streets in search of his mystery girl. At last, he discovers his kindred spirit at the very moment another earthquake strikes.
Interior Design- Hiroko and Akira are a young couple who arrive in Tokyo from the provinces. With limited funds and short-term lodging, their solid and mutually supportive relationship seems to carry them through any challenge. Akira, an aspiring filmmaker whose debut feature will soon screen in the city, finds work as a gift wrapper at a local department store. When their short-term lodging is expiring, Hiroko sets off to find a suitable apartment in Tokyo. After a bad debut of Akira’s film and the trials and tribulations in Tokyo, Hiroko starts to question her role in this relationship, resulting in a Kafkaesque transformation of self-discovery.
Merde- Merde (French translation: “shit”) is the name given to an unkempt, gibberish-spewing subterranean creature of Tokyo’s sewers. It rises from the underground lair where he dwells to attack unsuspecting locals in increasingly brazen and terrifying ways. After discovering an arsenal of hand grenades, Merde slips into a fill-on assault mode. Enter pompous French magistrate Maitre Voland to represent Merde’s inevitable televised trial. The media circus mounts as the lawyer defends the client in a surreal court of law, hungry for a satisfying resolution. Merde is tried, convicted and sentenced to death- until justice takes an unexpected turn.
Unlike “Paris, je t'aime”, Tokyo! isn’t a love letter by three international directors to the bustling metropolis. If you were to believe Michel Gondry, Leos Carax or Bong Joon-ho, you would think that people in the city are constantly searching for some sort of meaning in their lives, afraid of being attacked by a revolting man-animal, or living like hermits trapped in their own cocoon.
No, Tokyo! instead is a view of the city through the eyes of two French directors and one Korean director. The result is wildly uneven, with arguably Bong Joon-ho’s Shaking Tokyo the best of the motley bunch. It takes the social phenomenon of hikikomoris and crafts a gentle love story between two such people. Indeed, it makes a nice statement about the importance and the innate need within each of us for social contact, even among those who strenuously try to avoid it.
Certainly, it is the most realistic among the three films presented. Next in line is Michel Gondry’s Interior Design, a story about finding one’s place in a new environment. While the tale of two people trying to accustom themselves to the life in Tokyo begins conventionally, it takes an abrupt turn towards the end that unfortunately distracts the film from its original message. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say that it seems somewhat superfluous when compared to the rest of the story.
Still, the dynamics between people living in cramped spaces (given Tokyo’s limited and expensive land area) is interesting to watch. The same cannot be said of any bit of Merde, a movie as grotesque and bizarre as the creature at the heart of the story. What is the point of setting up an altogether unrealistic subterranean denizen that goes around terrorizing the citizens of Tokyo in various downright repulsive ways?
Try as I may but the only reason I can fathom why French director Leos Carax has come up with this is to serve as an outlet for his own frustrations against the Japanese people. How else to explain how the creature, whether man or animal left to your personal interpretation, reviles the Japanese, spewing stereotypes and other racist grudges? I’m sorry to say this but this segment to me is what its title so aptly means.
Unabashedly an arthouse ditty, this is certainly no crowd pleaser- though it’s probably a wise choice to program its most affirming feature “Shaking Tokyo” as the last among the omnibus. Tokyo! is best appreciated as an exercise and an indulgence in cinematic surrealism, since there is little to connect the compendium of three stories save for their abstract nature.
There are no special features on this DVD.
Excellent visual transfer brings out the cornucopia of colours and sights in the triptych. The Dolby 2.0 audio also works fine in bringing to life the sounds of the city.
Review by Gabriel Chong
on 24 May 2009