Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Turning Japanese

Three acclaimed international directors — Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host) — have turned their eyes toward Tokyo! The resulting anthology film of that title opens this Friday in NYC, and across the country throughout March and April.

While none of the yarns spun here are overtly GLBT, there is much in these filmmakers’ sensibilities and the visual touches employed to please gay and lesbian as well as mainstream moviegoers. The first story, Gondry’s Interior Design, focuses on a young straight couple who arrive in Tokyo to try and make their fortune. The male, Akira (Ryo Kase), yearns to become a filmmaker and is pedaling his low-budget creation, which eventually debuts in a gay porn theater.


Akira’s girlfriend, Hiroko (a nice performance by Ayako Fujitani), on the other hand has a difficult time finding her purpose in the big city. Just when one begins to think the traditionally offbeat Gondry has fashioned his first exercise in cinematic realism, Hiroko undergoes a unique metamorphoses. Without giving things away, she reaches the point of being able to declare in the film’s climax, “I’ve never in all my life felt so useful.”

Merde, directed by Carax, reveals what happens when Tokyo, used to attacks by the likes of Godzilla and other giant monsters, finds itself under siege by a more unusual creature. The unkempt but human-appearing title character (whose name translates as “Shit” in English) emerges from his home in the sewers and launches a reign of terror that includes cigarette snatching, schoolgirl licking and grenade throwing. The population cowers in fear.


Eventually caught in his subterranean lair, where he prefers to hang out in the nude, Merde (played by Denis Lavant) is subjected to increasingly hysterical public scrutiny and escalating criminal charges. While the slight story goes on a bit too long, Carax’s film ends on a satisfying note.

The final and best film in the trilogy, Shaking Tokyo, is directed by the talented Joon-ho. A quirky romantic featurette, it depicts the plight of a hikikimori (shut-in) who falls in love with the uniquely-tattooed pizza delivery girl who passes out in his doorway during an earthquake.


Veteran Japanese actor Teruyuki Kagawa stars as the love-struck man who has to muster the courage to leave his apartment for the first time in ten years after his beloved unexpectedly stops delivering his daily pizza. Viewers of all stripes can identify with the necessity of overcoming one’s fears in order to be with the object of our desire.

Tokyo! is a unique and enjoyable celebration of modern life, no matter which city life takes place in.

UPDATE: Tokyo! is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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