By Brian Brooks | Indiewire March 6, 2009 at 4:22AM
"A cramped metropolis of xenophobes and eccentrics living in a futuristic present: that is the image evoked in 'Tokyo!,'” a three-part film, directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, is how New York Times critic Stephen Holden describes the film, being released this weekend via Liberation Entertainment of the film named after Japan's sprawling capital. With each filmmaker taking the helm of one segment, Holden breaks down his take on the film's highs and lows.
"Two of the three are by French filmmakers: the New York-based Michel Gondry and Leos Carax. The third and weakest contribution comes from Bong Joon-ho, the South Korean director of 'The Host.' Both in its parts and in the sum of them 'Tokyo!' is playfully and sometimes disorientingly apocalyptic..."
But as is often the case, disagreement can exist among critics, even with those working for the same paper or outlet...
In her assessment of the film when it first appeared on the festival circuit, NYT's critic Manohla Dargis singled out Bong's "Shaking Tokyo" segment as her favorite of the triptych, after writing her take on the film from last year's Cannes Film Festival, while offering far less kudos for the Carax and Gondry segments.
Tokyo as a center of "cool" and as an un-tamed urban labyrinth are themes critics such as J. Hoberman have written about "Tokyo!" Gondry's opening 'Interior Design' is a vaguely Jarmuschian hipster entertainment about an aspiring filmmaker and his slacker girlfriend, who arrive in Tokyo and immediately succumb to the inexplicable hassles of metropolitan life--with the girlfriend making the more radical adaptation," Hoberman writes in The Village Voice about Gondry's segment in the film. Hoberman praises Carax's 'Merde' segment as hilarious, with Carax regular Denis Lavant emerging from a manhole in the city's posh Ginza district wreaking havoc on shoppers. "Dubbed the 'Creature From the Sewer by deadpan newsreaders who link him to al-Qaeda, Aum Shinrikyo, and Siberian witchcraft, this chaotic eruption is shown to embody Japan's historical repressed as well as Europe's guilty conscience," Writes Hoberman.
Variety's Justin Chang describes "Tokyo!" as "an uneven but enjoyable trio of films that take affectionate (and sometimes literal) aim at the Japanese capital," while Maggie Lee offers up, "The film would uniformly improve with at least 10 minutes trimmed from each segment to sharpen the narrative focus." Taking a look at Korean director Bong Joon-Ho's segment, "Tokyo Shaking," which examines the Japanese phenomenon of "hikkikomori" - extreme recluses who stay in their bedrooms for years - Lee praises, "Beautifully shot and edited, the story is disarming except for the overuse of reaction shots and blank stares of Kagawa, who never lets go of an opportunity to overact," in her review for The Hollywood Reporter.
But it's Carax's "Merde" that grabs the attention of New York Press critic Armond White, who calls it "the only visually and conceptually interesting short." He likens the film to a generation of "filmmakers who succumb to sodden, dull, solipsistic hipsterism - not the life force of Boccaccio '70 or even 2007's 'Paris, Je T'aime.' It's three tardy tourists' view of Sofia Coppola's ('Lost in Translation') Japan."
Nick Schager concurrs "Tokyo!" is "ueven" saying the film "isn't an entirely consistent affair," writing in Nerve.com.
And in indieWIRE earlier this week, Reverse Shot's Jeff Reichert gives a guarded positive for the film, comparing the format to recent "failures."
"The recent 'Eros' and 'Three...Extremes,' occupy the 'failed attempt' end of the tripartite omnibus canon, so it's a pleasant surprise to report that "Tokyo!", featuring the talents of fabulists Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho, and the too-long-absent Leos Carax proves positive that the logic behind these enterprises isn't necessarily fallacious--that asking a trio of auteurs to variate around a theme can result in a film bigger than the sum of its individual segments."
Described on the film's official website as "in the tradition of such films as 'New York Stories,' 'Night on Earth,' 'Paris Je T'Aime' and its forthcoming sequel 'New York, I Love You,' 'Tokyo!' addresses the timeless question of whether we shape cities, or if cities shape us - in the process revealing the rich humanity at the heart of modern urban life."
directed by Michel Gondry ("Interior Design"), Leos Carax ("Merde") and Bong Joon-Ho ("Shaking Tokyo")
112 minutes, presented in Japanese and French