- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

Throw three avant-garde filmmakers on the streets of a famous city and ask each one to create a short. It’s an idea that has been done plenty of times — typically with more mainstream filmmakers — in movies such as 2006’s “Paris je t’aime.”

It’s not often done as idiosyncratically as “Tokyo!” however. That’s thanks to the talent involved: French filmmaker Michel Gondry (the man behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Science of Sleep”) is the best-known of the assembled directors. Keep his sensibilities in mind, and you’ll have some idea of what’s in store for you with “Tokyo!”

Mr. Gondry is joined by Leos Carax and Joon-ho Bong in the director’s chair, and each of the three has 35 minutes or so of screen time with which to tell his story. And these are some crazy stories.

Things get started simply enough. Mr. Gondry’s segment, “Interior Design,” kicks off almost normally, following the travails of a quirky young couple trying to find an affordable flat in the world’s most expensive city. It’s an interesting look at Tokyo’s grimier side, a part of the city not often highlighted on the big screen for Western audiences.

As the pair tour the city’s seedier apartments, they grow more alienated from each other until, eventually, there’s a metamorphosis: One of the two turns into something else entirely bizarre. To describe the short as Kafkaesque would feel cliched if it weren’t so apt.

Next up is Mr. Carax’s segment, “Merde.” A bizarre leprechaunlike creature is arising from Tokyo’s sewers to wreak havoc in the city. At first, he just harasses people on the streets, eating flowers, stealing cigarettes from people and generally intimidating the strangers he runs across.

After retreating back beneath the surface, he stumbles across a box of old World War II-era grenades. After causing much death and destruction with them, he is captured and tried for his crimes.

One gets the sense that Mr. Carax sees Merde, as the creature is known, as a symbol for mankind’s latent anger: the embodiment of man’s ineradicable drive to wage war and commit murder, to allow hate into the heart.

(Or maybe he’s just an angry leprechaun. Who am I, Freud?)

Finally, there’s Mr. Hong’s short, “Shaking Tokyo,” which delves into a couple of different themes. The first is isolation: Mr. Hong follows a shut-in who hasn’t had contact with the outside world for years, with the exception of his deliverymen, with whom he never makes eye contact.

That changes when he realizes that the new pizza-delivery person is a woman. When she faints after an earthquake, he realizes that she’s actually some sort of high-tech robot, which brings us to the second theme: Japan’s obsession with creating robotic companions.

If “Tokyo!” has a unifying idea, it’s the devastating effect loneliness and isolation have on the psyche, an interesting choice considering Tokyo’s status as one of the world’s densest cities.

★★½

TITLE: “Tokyo!”

RATING: Not rated (Some nudity, violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Joon-ho Bong

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

WEB SITE: https://tokyo-movie.jp/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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