Tokyo!

    The boyfriend (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is an aspiring director, but his experimental sci-fi film-within-a-film ‘mdash; which nearly suffocates its audience with a supplemental fog machine ‘mdash; doesn’t make it past a modest opening at a local seedy porno theater. As their pockets continue to empty, the girlfriend (Ayako Fujitani, Steven Seagal’s daughter) feels alienated by her own lack of ambition.

    Kafka would be proud of the metamorphosis that ensues: Fujitani awakens one morning to find her rib cage mutating into a chair’s wooden pillars. After a dramatic dash through Tokyo’s isolating backdrop, she completes her transformation into chair, soon snatched up by a passing musician.

    Fujitani ultimately finds solace in her simple utility. Though we’re wooed by her new wooden occupation and artsy attitude, her welcoming embrace of chair-dom is almost too sudden to make sense; in the end, even the biggest/most intense identity crisis doesn’t seem to justify choosing a painstakingly simple existence just to avoid a couple of rent bills.

    ‘Merde’

    Up next is Leos Carax’s ‘Merde,’ which translates to ‘shit’ in French. Playing off the old-school ‘Godzilla’ rampages of which Tokyo is so fond (and with a soundtrack to match), the film focuses on sewer-dwelling Merde (Dennis Lavant), who surfaces to torment the city ‘mdash; stealing cigarettes, eating flowers and licking women.

    Finally, after discovering some grenades in the sewers and throwing them into a busy intersection, he’s arrested and put on trial.

    ‘Merde’ is the both strangest and the strongest of the bunch, thanks to Carax’s attention to bizarre aesthetic detail and character quirks: We savor the sensory costumes (Merde’s green corduroy suit and swirly red hair) and strange body language. A shaky camera captures Merde’s chaotic rampage, while extended close-ups of his disfigured face force us to confront the outcast’s raw and unforgiving prank-terrorism.

    Carax goes overboard with an exhausting 10 minute conversation in Merde’s imaginary language, but by the time the death sentence rolls around, we know the pariah so well that we’re all rooting for his survival. He may be the shit of society, but he’s our shit and we want to keep him.

    ‘Shaking Tokyo’

    Following part two’s energetic romp, ‘Shaking Tokyo’ ‘mdash; directed by Bong Joon-ho ‘mdash; sinks the series with a lethargic and predictable commentary on technology in contemporary society. A Japanese hermit (or hikikomori) who’s been burrowed in his apartment for a decade makes sudden eye contact with a pizza girl and ‘mdash; in a moment of true magic ‘mdash; the Earth begins quaking. After she faints, the hermit presses a tattooed power button on her leg to revive her. After a contemplative inner struggle, he decides to pursue her, soon realizing Tokyo’s streets have been abandoned so that only pizza-delivery robots remain. When he finally arrives at her front door, the hermit pushes her ‘love’ button, and once again Tokyo begins to tremble. Joon-ho’s neatly packaged romance and his obvious critique of our generation’s widening isolation is too transparent ‘mdash; and weird ‘mdash; to embrace.

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    2.5/5
    Starring Yu Aoi, Akayo Fujitani and Denis Lavant’
    Directed by Leos Carax, Michael Gondry and Bong Joon-ho

    Any local will tell you that a postcard or flashy tourist tchotchke doesn’t embody a city’s real heart and soul. Still, its reputation can’t escape an outsider’s bias, and it’s all too easy to notice that ‘Tokyo!’ ‘mdash; a triptych of shorts filmed in Japan’s neon-drenched capital ‘mdash; was written and directed by three non-natives. However disjointed the fantastical set of films, it’s got nothing on its marginalized protagonists: It’s them versus the city, and the rules of reality don’t apply.

    ‘Interior Design’

    An eccentric tale spun by ‘Eternal Sunshine’ mastermind Michel Gondry, ‘Design’ trails a young couple facing the big-city obstacles of their new hometown: no parking, an endless apartment hunt and dwindling cash.

    The boyfriend (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is an aspiring director, but his experimental sci-fi film-within-a-film ‘mdash; which nearly suffocates its audience with a supplemental fog machine ‘mdash; doesn’t make it past a modest opening at a local seedy porno theater. As their pockets continue to empty, the girlfriend (Ayako Fujitani, Steven Seagal’s daughter) feels alienated by her own lack of ambition.

    Kafka would be proud of the metamorphosis that ensues: Fujitani awakens one morning to find her rib cage mutating into a chair’s wooden pillars. After a dramatic dash through Tokyo’s isolating backdrop, she completes her transformation into chair, soon snatched up by a passing musician.

    Fujitani ultimately finds solace in her simple utility. Though we’re wooed by her new wooden occupation and artsy attitude, her welcoming embrace of chair-dom is almost too sudden to make sense; in the end, even the biggest/most intense identity crisis doesn’t seem to justify choosing a painstakingly simple existence just to avoid a couple of rent bills.

    ‘Merde’

    Up next is Leos Carax’s ‘Merde,’ which translates to ‘shit’ in French. Playing off the old-school ‘Godzilla’ rampages of which Tokyo is so fond (and with a soundtrack to match), the film focuses on sewer-dwelling Merde (Dennis Lavant), who surfaces to torment the city ‘mdash; stealing cigarettes, eating flowers and licking women.

    Finally, after discovering some grenades in the sewers and throwing them into a busy intersection, he’s arrested and put on trial.

    ‘Merde’ is the both strangest and the strongest of the bunch, thanks to Carax’s attention to bizarre aesthetic detail and character quirks: We savor the sensory costumes (Merde’s green corduroy suit and swirly red hair) and strange body language. A shaky camera captures Merde’s chaotic rampage, while extended close-ups of his disfigured face force us to confront the outcast’s raw and unforgiving prank-terrorism.

    Carax goes overboard with an exhausting 10 minute conversation in Merde’s imaginary language, but by the time the death sentence rolls around, we know the pariah so well that we’re all rooting for his survival. He may be the shit of society, but he’s our shit and we want to keep him.

    ‘Shaking Tokyo’

    Following part two’s energetic romp, ‘Shaking Tokyo’ ‘mdash; directed by Bong Joon-ho ‘mdash; sinks the series with a lethargic and predictable commentary on technology in contemporary society. A Japanese hermit (or hikikomori) who’s been burrowed in his apartment for a decade makes sudden eye contact with a pizza girl and ‘mdash; in a moment of true magic ‘mdash; the Earth begins quaking. After she faints, the hermit presses a tattooed power button on her leg to revive her. After a contemplative inner struggle, he decides to pursue her, soon realizing Tokyo’s streets have been abandoned so that only pizza-delivery robo
    ts remain. When he finally arrives at her front door, the hermit pushes her ‘love’ button, and once again Tokyo begins to tremble. Joon-ho’s neatly packaged romance and his obvious critique of our generation’s widening isolation is too transparent ‘mdash; and weird ‘mdash; to embrace.

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