Lately omnibus projects about cities have been popular, first with “Paris Je T’Aime,” then “New York, I Love You,” and now “Tokyo!” all of which consist of shorts by various directors, somehow related to the city in question. I think the idea is to evoke the spirit of the city, to capture something of its textures and rhythms. Naturally some of the shorts work better than others, and attempting to view the whole thing as one piece is an exercise in futility. Still, going to the theater and seeing a series of twenty minute films instead of one long, exhausting tortured plot can be refreshing.
“Tokyo!” starts with a piece from Michel Gondry, famous for his exuberant visual style in films like “Be Kind Rewind” and “The Science of Sleep” heads up the first project, about a young couple struggling to find their way in the big city. They stay in the ridiculously tiny apartment of a friend while he screens odd movies at a porn theater; and works part-time wrapping packages. She tries to find what she’s supposed to be doing there. Gondry’s entry takes a bizarre turn at the end, but to understand it, just remember this: furniture is useful and doesn’t have to pay rent.
Leos Carax, whose last film was 1999’s “Pola X,” directs the second segment, and it’s a real drag. A red-bearded, long-gaited, green-suited “creature” comes up out of the sewer to wreak mischief upon the city, culminating in some grenade throwing that gets labeled as terrorist activity. Most of the film concerns his trial; a french lawyer flies in and speaks to him in their own special language, and the Tokyo court tries to understand why he does what he does. Who cares? He’s a madman. The tired cliches roll on, until he doesn’t die at his execution. And we sigh with relief as the credits roll, finally.
Korean Joon-Ho Bong, who got a lot of attention for “The Host” last year, helms the third short, which is the best of the set. Showing incredible restraint after the extravagances of “The Host,” he gives us the quiet story of a shut-in, who is drawn out of his seclusion by a sickly pizza delivery girl, only to discover that the whole world has become shut in. This segment proceeds with quiet grace and simple beauty, along with immaculate attention to detail and tone.
“Tokyo!” offers us three distinct films, each directed by an outsider. I’m not sure the projects really capture anything of Tokyo; they seem more linked by their fantastic/surreal subject matter and tone than by the city where they take place. Or maybe that’s the character of Tokyo. I’ve never been.