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Denis Lavant (Photo: Liberation Entertainment)

Directed by
Michel Gondry, Léos Carax & Bong Joon-ho
Produced by
Masa Sawada & Michiko Yoshitake
Written by Gabrielle Bell, Gondry, Carax & Joon-ho
Released by Liberation Entertainment
Japanese with English subtitles
France/Japan/Korea/Germany. 112 min.  Not Rated
Ayako Fujitani, Ryo Kase, Ayume Ito, Denis Levant, Jean-François Balmer, Renji Ishibashi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yu Aoi & Naoto Takenaka 

An aimless young woman with a pretentious filmmaker boyfriend turns into a wooden chair whenever anyone is around. A half-man, half-mutant named Merde lives in the sewers, tosses bombs above ground at civilians, and then stands trial as an enemy of the state. And a shut-in lives self-sustained in his apartment for 10 years until he has contact with a pizza delivery girl, which is followed by an earthquake. How these stories connect is… actually they don’t, except for the fact that they all take place in Tokyo, and that they all have some edge of the surreal or an eerie sense of urban fantasy. Tokyo! is also uncommonly good for a triptych. Where one might get a couple of really good shorts and then a dud as with 2004’s Eros, or a real hit-or-miss collection like Four Rooms, Tokyo! allows its filmmakers ample room to cut loose

In Michel Gondry’s “Interior Design,” Hiroko and Akira (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase) are a young couple who live in a very small apartment with another lodger, making the space even smaller. Akira has aspirations to make big movies, and has made one that is so artsy and abstract that it can only be screened in a porno theater (his film, when screened, is one of the highlights of all of Tokyo!, an insane parody of a pretentious art film). But Hiroko has no artistic aspirations or real job goals. She takes photos, cuts pictures out of magazines, and tries to find a better apartment for the two of them with little luck. Then one day, as if out of Kafka by way of IKEA, she transforms over the course of a morning into a wooden chair.

“Merde”, which translates as “Shit,” is the first film of any length written and directed by Léos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge) since his poor received Pola X in 1999. While this middle-section may be the weakest of the three films, it doesn’t start out that way. Indeed, in the first half, it’s something almost too crazy, but it works brilliantly, having the texture of a Godzilla flick (the opening chords of music sound like something out of a Rodan movie). The director’s frequent leading man, Denis Lavant, prowls the streets stealing and eating flowers and money, looking like a rancid mix of Gollum and a Truffaut wild child. Unfortunately, the film leads up to an ending that is just silly and head-scratching dumb. (There’s even a coda—“See Merde soon in ‘Merde comes to the USA’” right out of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension). But for a little while, at least, it appears like Carax is back as a frightening filmmaking force.

Finally, from Bong Joon-ho, Korean director of the cult hit The Host, there’s “Shaking Tokyo,” which has perhaps the most depth of any short I’ve seen in a while. Teruyuki Kagawa stars as an agoraphobic shut-in. He sustains himself on pizza, living off of money left to him by his father. One day, he does the unthinkable: he makes eye contact with a pretty delivery girl—the first eyes he’s set upon in 10 years. At this moment, the earthquake occurs.

Every story relies upon the streets and distinct ambiance of the city. No opportunity is wasted in using the sights and sounds to heighten the effect of the stories. Only Lost in Translation tops it in using modern Tokyos flavor and mood, but Tokyo! has the advantage of three different personalities—all foreigners—coming up with (near) original works of the weird and heartfelt and dangerous. Jack Gattanella
March 6, 2009



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