Tokyo! is quite possibly one of the strangest films I have seen in a long while, but I mean this in the best way possible. The three short films presented here are so mindblowingly goofy and bizarre that there is no way you could possibly not be enamored by them. What’s strangely ironic about this trio is that none of the directors are Japanese. Leos Carax and Michel Gondry are delightfully French, and Joon-ho Bong is Korean. Nevertheless, all three of them seem to eloquently capture the strangeness and alien nature of Japanese society in a way that is incredibly accessible for outside viewers.
First up is Michel Gondry’s “Interior Design.” Here, we are shown a young couple’s tale of attempting to move to Tokyo and to make it big in the process. The wife is continually unemployed, and the husband is in the process of marketing his odd film which contains skeleton biker monsters, tons of smoke, fake moustaches and strangely veiled Nazi propaganda references. All is going well as they begin the apartment search and he takes up a part-time job on the side, until the wife suddenly turns into a chair. Yes, a chair. Thus starts Gondry’s trademark surreal shenanigans as the story spirals into a silly mix of fantasy and reality. The whimsicality of Gondry’s simple and gentle story makes this easily the best of the three films and it’s a nice starting point, setting the mood.
The weakest of the three, Leos Carax’s “Merde,” follows suit. The film opens with this odd red-haired, milky-eyed zombie monster of a man who apparently likes running around the streets of Tokyo licking people and eating flowers and cash -- doing what he does best. We later learn that this man’s name is Merde (the word for “shit” in French), and that he really, really, really doesn’t like the Japanese. This is revealed as he runs around throwing grenades all over a public overpass, killing numerous innocent people. Who woulda thought? He is later put on trial, and thus the weirdness of the film spirals out of control. I hate to label films as being too weird, but “Merde” is too willing to jump into that realm of “incomprehensibly weird” and thus loses a lot of its meaning and value in the process.
Tokyo! regained my approval with the final short, Joon-ho Bong’s “Shaking Tokyo.” He tells an innocent and downright adorable love story between a hikkikomori (a Japanese term for a “shut-in” or someone who never leaves his house nor has contact with other human beings) and a pizza delivery girl who are brought together multiple times due to a series of bad earthquakes. At one point, she falls into a coma, but, in a moment of Gondry-esque surrealism, the main character presses the “coma” button on her thigh and she bolts up as if nothing has happened. The similar magical realism gives this film an undeniable amount of charm that had pretty much everyone at the screening I attended going “awww” every five minutes without any shame whatsoever. It could have probably been a little bit longer, but it’s so damn cute that no one paused to care.
At the very least, Tokyo! is an entertaining triptych that will hold you over until the release of the Paris Je T’Aime successor, New York, I Love You, later this year. The first and third offerings are charming and humorous, and while the second one does have its issues, its weirdness is strangely compelling and its flaws should not deter you from experiencing its sheer insanity. It would have been interesting if this had followed the …I Love You series format with numerous directors doing three- to five-minute shorts, but Tokyo!, in its current incarnation, certainly works wonders. There’s nothing I haven’t said about it at this point that hasn’t been heard before, but I’ll say it again: This film is astoundingly charming and downright bizarre, and should not be missed under any circumstances.