Tokyo! is a curious conundrum. The movie is a triptych of short films about the titular metropolis made by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong, three non-Japanese filmmakers. Each tries to offer up personalized impressions of the Japanese capital, and that alone would suggest a worthwhile cinematic experience. But the films themselves lack the intimacy with Tokyo's cultural nuances that we crave from a piece like this, trafficking instead in stereotypes and platitudes.
For its easy charm and humor, Michel Gondry's "Interior Design" comes off best. Gondry's story follows a young couple -- Hiroko and Akira (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase) -- who have just moved to Tokyo, struggling to find an apartment, jobs, and generally to start their new lives. Akira's an aspiring filmmaker-artist, hence a bit of a space case, while his girlfriend Hiroko is smart but directionless. While getting started in Tokyo, they bunk up with a friend in her absurdly tiny apartment. Gradually, Hiroko pulls away from Akira and, in a Gondry-esque bit of transmogrification, she suddenly has the ability to shift from human to chair form and back. As a chair, she becomes part of the furnishings in a stranger's home, and feels herself an object of value, something she lacked as a human being. Gondry pokes fun at Tokyo's housing crisis: The living spaces are hilariously cramped, hardly more than glorified closets. With the low-key bantering of its characters, the quotidian details of Tokyo street life, its movie-within-a-movie device, the human-chair magic trick, and the overall theme of life-as-reverie, this is a Gondry project through and through. And, though not illuminating on the subject of its city, it's still a cute, clever take on Tokyo to keep us amused.
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