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'Tokyo!': three directors' twisted tales

The city fuels a trio of frenetic fantasies by directors Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho.

March 15, 2009|Susan King

A woman who transforms into an inanimate object. A wild man who emerges from the sewers, terrorizing citizens on the street. An agoraphobic who is so enamored with a pizza delivery girl he decides to leave the house to find her. These off-kilter tales make up what is being described as a surreal triptych movie, "Tokyo!," opening Friday at the Nuart Theatre.

An official selection for the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section last year, the trilogy brings together three diverse, imaginative directors: France's Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and Leos Carax ("The Lovers on the Bridge"), as well as South Korea's Bong Joon-ho ("The Host"). (The film also got fairly positive critical reaction when it opened in Japan in August.)

Though rarely produced these days, omnibus films have long been a staple, whether D.W. Griffith's 1916 masterwork "Intolerance," the 1942 Hollywood comedy "Tales of Manhattan" or the 1945 British horror classic "Dead of Night."

Gondry's quirky segment, "Interior Design," anchors the film. Adapted from the comic "Cecil and Jordan in New York," the comedy revolves around an unmarried Japanese couple who move to Tokyo to pursue their dreams. The young man finds a job wrapping packages at a store while trying to make it as a filmmaker, while his girlfriend seems to have no success fitting in. But when she literally transforms into something nonhuman she finally discovers her purpose in life.

By contrast, Carax's "Merde" is unsettling. Denis Lavant, who has worked several times with Carax, plays a wild man named Merde who lives in the sewers of Tokyo and speaks in a gibberish only a few can understand. He's eventually caught and put on trial.

Carax said he got involved with the project because he was having problems getting his own feature projects off the ground. "I accepted the proposal: to write something very fast, to be shot in the city of Mizoguchi and Godzilla," he explained via e-mail.

Carax rather cryptically said his part of "Tokyo!" is less about the city and more about the title's exclamation point. "I got my first vision of 'Merde' one bad day, as I was walking on a large and hectic Parisian boulevard. I imagined somebody -- myself? -- springing out from a manhole, breaking into the crowds and shooting down everyone crossing his path. It came to me then that this man should have no means of communication with the rest of us. It should really be coming out of nowhere -- a kind of child-monster, a primeval creature, the remnant of a lost civilization."

He then adapted the concept to Tokyo. "The fact that Japan is an island and that so many things are repressed (memory, feelings, etc.) nourished the project," he said. "Merde is an absurd terrorist and absolute immigrant."

After all was said and shot, though, Carax admits he didn't really enjoy the short-film format. But the character has inspired him.

"I am hoping to shoot a sequel to 'Merde,' a feature film called 'Merde in the U.S.,' set in New York and loosely based on 'Beauty and the Beast,' with Denis Lavant and Kate Moss."

Bong's "Shaking Tokyo" concludes the trilogy, with the story of a hermit obsessed with pizza who struggles with going outside after meeting the love of his life: a pizza delivery girl. She faints at his house when an earthquake hits as she delivers his pizza.

The director was in postproduction on "The Host" three years ago when he received the offer to become one of the project's directors.

"It didn't take long to take the offer because I feel familiar with the charm of the city of Tokyo," he wrote via e-mail. "Doing an omnibus project was kind of interesting and refreshing to me. When I got the offer, the remainder of the directors was not fixed yet. I guess it was late 2006 when it was fixed as Gondry, Carax and me."

The majority of his segment was shot in the Kugayama district of Tokyo. "I really enjoyed the shooting. Tokyo is not the best city to do location shooting, but we could overcome various obstacles since the crew I work with were all very passionate and organized."


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