Written by Caballero Oscuro
Although the three short films comprising Tokyo! are completely self-contained and come from wildly dissimilar directors, they all share the same theme: alienation. Surprisingly, even though each film is set in Tokyo, none of them are vastly influenced by the setting. It’s rewarding to see how these non-Japanese directors approach the task of capturing the essence of Tokyo, but ultimately the core tales contained here are universal enough that they could be easily transplanted to any major metropolis.
The lead-off hitter here is likely the main draw for most U.S. viewers, as Michel Gondry has amassed an impressive string of oddball hits accentuated by his propensity for whimsical, homemade touches. His segment, “Interior Design,” is surprisingly conventional for most of its running length until it veers firmly into the surreal in its closing minutes. A young couple moves to Tokyo to further the filmmaking career of the boyfriend, but with no home of their own and no marketable skills, the girlfriend slips further into the background as she searches for her own purpose in life. Lead actress Ayako Fujitani (daughter of Steven Segal) contributes a fine performance that admirably portrays her character’s displacement and desire to belong.
The unmistakable opening strains of the classic Godzilla score give a clear hint to the direction of Leos Carax‘s segment, “Merde.” A disheveled and seemingly deranged white man emerges from a manhole and proceeds to plow a path of destruction through the shocked pedestrians in his way, nonchalantly stripping them of their belonging including cash, crutches, and flowers (especially the flowers). This monster doesn’t stomp on buildings like Godzilla/Gojira, but he evokes a similar sense of terror in Tokyo as his manic id crashes against the traditionally stoic and reserved ego of its citizens. When his subsequent outing results in tremendous civilian casualties, he’s hunted down, captured, and outed as a bizarre loner who speaks a language supposedly known by only two other people on earth. This extreme alienation clearly affects his ability to interact with others and leads to many public questions, but he remains something of a mystery as his origin and intentions aren’t disclosed. While it seems that the character was originally developed to serve as a stark contrast to the conformist culture he inhabits, he’s ultimately so fascinating on his own that it’s a delightful albeit unlikely surprise when a final title card flashes “Coming Soon: The Adventures of Mr. Merde in New York.”