Three visions of Japanese metropolis
It sounds like the setup for a joke - two Frenchmen and a Korean walk into a foreign capital - but the idea behind the trilogy film "Tokyo!" is to allow three art-house darlings to each set a tale of pungent dislocation in the sprawling Japanese metropolis. If you've seen "Paris, je t'aime" or "New York Stories," you know the rate of return on these urban omnibuses is variable, and so it is here. Go in expecting minor pleasures and you'll be fine.
First up is Michel Gondry's "Interior Design," in which a pair of rootless young bohos played by Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase arrive in Tokyo to crash at the cramped apartment of a school chum (Ayumi Ito). Gondry's specialty in films like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep" is romantic entropy - the way love and plans fall apart into shaggy-dog surrealism - and Fujitani is both adorable and touching as a woman whose artsy bravado masks a body-altering insecurity. (Oddball trivia: The actress is the daughter of action star Steven Seagal. Whatever; I hope we see more of her.)
From Leos Carax ("The Lovers on the Bridge") comes "Merde," a bizarre little scenario about a creature who emerges from the sewers of Tokyo to terrify the populace. As played with demented relish by French actor Denis Lavant, this scruffy little demon - named "Merde" - is part worst-case-scenario homeless man and part Monster from the Id, embodying all the nationalist blood-lust Japan believes it has buried in the past. It's a neat, caustic idea but it runs out of gas before the story ends.
Neither of these stories seem specific to Tokyo - actually, Gondry's film has been adapted from the graphic novel "Cecil and Jordan in New York," by Gabrielle Bell - but the final entry does seem to capture the spooky isolation of a city where overstimulation is a way of life. Directed by Bong Joon-ho (he gave us the sly Korean monster movie "The Host"), "Shaking Tokyo" concerns itself with the hikikomori, urban hermits who withdraw into walled-off indoor lives. It's a genuine sociological issue, here refracted through one sad-faced fictional hikikomori (Teruyuki Kagawa) who hasn't stepped outside his house in a decade.
The appearance of a scooter-riding pizza delivery girl (Yû Aoi) shakes him out of his solitude, or perhaps it's the series of tremors that rattle the city, sending the hero into the sunlight again. "Shaking Tokyo" does what a good short story should: hooks you with a premise, explores the possibilities, and leaves you poised at the edge of a bigger world. Bong's image of a megalopolis where everyone is imprisoned inside sticks with a viewer long after the other two tales have faded.