Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tri-Part TOKYO! opens: short films from Michel Gondry, Leos Carax & Joon-Ho Bong

Compilation movies have never been among the most popular for US audiences: Just as more readers prefer novels to short stories, moviegoers generally prefer full-length. However, this may be changing -- slowly -- as indicated by the increased popularity of the series of Academy Award nominated shorts, live-action and animated, that have garnered theatrical distribution and been released to DVD over the past several years. This week TOKYO! arrives, in which three relatively famous filmmakers -- Michel Gondry (above, right) Leos Carax (center) and Boon Joon-Ho (left) contribute their short films to make up a 110-minute feature. The result? Not bad at all. Though I doubt film buffs will hail any of the three as classic, none is less than entertaining and all are occasionally thought-provoking.

Gondry leads off with, to my taste, the best of the lot: INTERIOR DESIGN, in which a young couple, one of which is a filmmaker, tries to set up shop and home in the titular city. It's not easy. While he goes about his work-related duties, his girlfriend can't quite manage things. And so she begins a journey that... well, you'll have to discover for yourself. Crisply shot by Masami Inomoto and very well acted, the movie has many of Gondry's hallmarks: metamorphosis, humor and surreality.

Carax has been absent from the screen since 1999. He returns a decade later with MERDE, a film that offers more of his outsider obsession but thankfully handled in less than one-third the time of his most famous films: the 125-minute Lovers on the Bridge (1991) and the 135-minute disaster Pola X. The always interesting and usually scary Denis Lavant (above) stars as a sewer-spawned fellow who arrives topside to cause havoc in Tokyo. The press notes explain what the movie does not (well, not exactly), but I will spare you them. The film itself is creepy and funny enough to resist any easy or complete explanation.

It may simply be the cultural gap widening for me, but I found Bong's piece the least captivating, though it's certainly worth one's time. In it, an agoraphobic fellow orders pizza delivered by a girl on whom he develops a crush. Earthquakes and other festivities occur. So what? I have no idea but perhaps you will fare better. Bong made a bang with the horror/creature movie The Host, though his earlier Memories of Murder is the superior film. Here he seems to be marking time -- which is still OK in a short film. By the point at which we're growing restless, it's all over.

TOKYO! opens in NYC Friday, March 6, exclusively at the Landmark Sunshine Theater.


Jason said...

I loved this movie! I heard the DVD is coming out June 30th and I cant wait to pick it up!

James van Maanen, said...

Well, good, Jason. I encourage you to pick up a copy. Distributors, particularly those who handle independents and foreign films, need all the help they can get!