Do anthology films ever work?
Sure, it sounds like a good idea to see a bunch of big-name directors team up to create one glorious movie. But can you think of one you've enjoyed from start to finish and not just in certain parts? The main problem with many of them is the same thing they seek to accomplish: The filmmakers involved are supposed to do something with a particular subject or theme, from their distinctive point of view.
The trouble is that in most anthology films, the inconsistency in the movie's tone becomes overwhelmingly obtrusive. You end up watching a movie that has more highs and lows than Billy Bob Thornton during a radio interview.
That certainly is the case with "Tokyo!", the newest anthology film that has acclaimed directors banding to tell stories from a buzzing, metropolitan locale. Audiences will find that this movie has two likable highs and one unpleasant low.
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First up is "Interior Design," where that whimsical Frenchman Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") follows a Japanese couple (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase) coming into town. This struggling pair lives with a friend (Ayumi Ito) while they try to look for jobs and an apartment. While the man is aspiring to make a name for himself as an avant-garde filmmaker, the woman begins to feel useless, unable to get a grasp on what she wants to do. Although it takes a while to get there, the story takes an entertainingly surreal twist (this is a Michel Gondry production after all), when the girl morphs into something that'll finally make her useful.
Next up from French provocateur Leos Carax ("Pola X"), is "Merde," which is French for something I can't say in a family paper. This chapter focuses on a crazy-eyed, red-headed freak (frequent Carax collaborator Denis Levant) who comes from the sewer to wreak above-ground havoc: eating people's flowers and cash, stealing their cigarettes, licking girls' armpits, etc. The media soon elevate him from nuisance to terrorist when he gets hold of some grenades and starts leaving bodies in his wake. He eventually gets caught and tried for his actions, where a cocky French lawyer (Jean-François Balmer), who looks exactly like the guy, translates for him.
I had the most issues with this one, since it is both peculiar and problematic. Carax has stated that Levant's walking menace is supposed to embody everything from suicide bombers to Godzilla (hence the green suit) to Charlie Chaplin. He's a fiend, a fool and a force to be reckoned with all in one. But much like the gibberish he spews, the story becomes nonsensical the more it goes forth. It's less about Tokyo and more about a weird, French dude running amok in a big city. And, in this instance, I mean Carax.
Finally, we have "Shaking Tokyo," from South Korean monster-movie maven Bong Joon-Ho ("The Host"). This quirky, sophisticatedly-shot section takes us inside the home of a hikikomori (Teruyuki Kagawa), which appears to be a Japanese version of an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic. This guy has spent a decade in his home, stacking empty toilet paper rolls and pizza boxes. But his world gets rocked -- literally -- when he locks eyes with the pretty, tattooed delivery girl (Yu Aoi) who delivers his pizzas. So when she stops coming to his doorstep, guess who suddenly has a desire to leave the house?
Apart from being set in the same place (and, really, couldn't these have been done in any town?), the stories of "Tokyo!" do seem to have an interconnecting theme among them: people who feel isolated from the world. The fact that, in the title, the city's name ends with an exclamation point is practically an ironic gag. While the title informs the viewer that Tokyo is one exciting, hopping metropolis, all the lead characters aren't really that jazzed to be there.
That said, "Tokyo!" does predictably suffer from being inconsistent.
That doesn't mean people won't find a favorite segment. "Tokyo!" becomes another anthology film that shows why this genre showcases the best and worst in filmmaking.