Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tokyo Trilogy

By David Luhrssen
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Every few years one of the world’s great cities has inspired directors to pool together several mid-length movies on a particular metropolis into one package. New York Stories is probably the best known. Tokyo! is the newest.

A trio of films by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, Tokyo! isn’t a trilogy, mind you, because the parts don’t continue each other’s plots and characters. And the components of Tokyo! aren’t shorts, but more like cinematic novellas, given their length. The combination works because each component is interesting, at least to some degree. In straining for a connecting theme, one might suggest alienation in a city of anonymity and sensory overload.

My favorite of the three is Gondry’s “Interior Design.” The director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks at a young couple, wannabe filmmakers, trying to get their footing in the big city. “Interior Design” includes many funny, insightful moments about the pretentious artists and the situation of women. What begins as an ode to the French New Wave turns into delightful magical realism.

Gondry’s story is universal—it could be set in New York (and was in fact based on a cartoon set in the Big Apple). French director Carax’s “Merde” (“Shit”) is a bizarre satire of society and politics that could easily be shifted to Paris, London or Washington with a few changed references. The most specifically Japanese film of the trio is—no surprise—by a Japanese director. Joon-ho’s “Shaking Tokyo” is an oddly affecting story about a hermit who begins to peer into outside world.

Tokyo! is showing in Milwaukee at the Oriental Theatre.

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