TOKYO! — coming soon to your local theatre or drive-in! Not! No more drive-in theatres, only drive-in minds. Well, is Surreal the new Real in this 21st century? Well is it? This is not a trick question, and time is of the essence. It’s finally agreed upon that time and space can no longer be ignored or taken for granted. Even Leon Russell said it years ago when he sang, “I love you in a place where there’s no space and time.” This continuing exploration of time was reaffirmed this week after seeing TOKYO! Coincidentally, time and space were involved in several different incidences at several different times after seeing it. One was the discussion of the book The Culture of Time and Space (1880-1918), the other a discussion with a graphic artist where I was informed that it has been proven that time just doesn’t seem like it’s going faster, but that it is. I haven’t spoken to him since –- I don’t have enough time.
In TOKYO! three visionary directors, Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, come together to create a triptych with one main unifying concrete element –- the multi-faceted, always-changing, densely populated, manically inviting Japanese megalopolis of Tokyo. Therein ends the similarities…almost. Although each vignette is set in Tokyo, they all have a different take on the underpinnings…no, make that the offal of the city. This movie experience is certainly visceral enough to warrant the use of the word “offal,” which does not refer to a particular list of organs but includes most internal organs other than muscles or bones. Just the way some people in some cultures shy away from offal as food, others may make it everyday food or even a delicacy that commands a high price. Just as the vignettes in TOKYO! show everyday life as something that sometimes ends up commanding a high price that is beyond one’s ken.
In the tradition of Bunuel and Dali in their seminal offering of surrealism, Un Chien Andalou — which explores the human condition through different forms of expression – TOKYO! seems to be our current-day surrealistic contribution in perpetuating the surrealistic ideas of The Theatre of the Absurd and The Theatre of Cruelty which depend on visceral impact, thus proving that our modern angst is still of great concern, since angst is timeless.
Producers Masa Sawada and Michiko Yoshitake have said that, “The Greek word ‘rhapsody’ designates a work composed of several pieces presented one after the other. Our project is a fantasy in three movements — three directors interpreting a single motif: Tokyo. It doesn’t matter whether each piece seems at odds with the others; when they are put together, they form a unique work. A TOKYO! rhapsody, to be precise.” Surrealist works feature these elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur, as do each of these vignettes in their own way. But, going one step further with TOKYO! there is pataphysics, which is the science of imaginary solutions — something none of us can deny participating in.
The three directors have their own vision of their works as a part of the whole. Michel Gondry, director of “Interior Design” who earned the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, sees the aim of his piece to reveal the personality of a young woman who doesn’t see the point of disappearing into the professional adult world.
She starts to question her role in her relationship, resulting in a “Kafkaesque transformation of self-discovery” that will delight fans of Gondry’s trademark surrealism. This surreal twist takes place as she slowly begins a metamorphosis into a chair, reflecting her mental state which is one of just too much reality. She finds peace and usefulness as a chair which she didn’t find for herself in the real world.
Leos Carax’s “Merde” is about a creature not unlike Quasimodo who is scorned by humanity but, in this case, this is fine by him. He’s a racist, fundamentalist, human Godzilla whose wild, irreverent, and lascivious behavior is exacerbated with each bizarre attack upon the inhabitants of Tokyo, which results in his pathetic capture, incomprehensible incarceration and eventual demise.
“Shaking Tokyo,” by Bong Joon-Ho, introduces us to the Japanese conceit of hikikomori: a hermit. This is a love story taking place between a man and a woman who are both hikikomori but, unfortunately at different times, so instead of a unique love affair with a match made in Tokyo, we have the sound of one hand clapping which makes for a strange love story that ends with an earthquake.
After seeing TOKYO!, wherever I went, the sense of it followed me. It wasn’t that it was stalking me — it had just become a part of my subconscious and kept provoking thoughtful moments when I least expected it. And I liked it. It’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with surrealism; in fact, I’m probably more familiar with it than reality, according to others, but TOKYO! had unexpectedly created a heightened sense of awareness of my metropolitan surroundings, and an indefinable interest in what was being said or done and how I was a part of it.
If what we saw in the movie actually what was happening at some level, how was it different in each of our perceptions? I know the audiences at both showings I saw laughed at different things. Different audience, different point of view. Was what we were given really just a starting point for thought and the rest was up to us?
At the Q&A with Michel Gondry at one of the screenings, he coyly claimed that he made a fable, and do you know what someone who writes fables is called? A fabulist –- so I’d call Michel Gondry our fabulous fabulist. And, with that, I leave you with “the melancholy of departure.”