Friday, May 8, 2009


Michel Gondry/Leos Carax/Bong Joon-Ho, 2009, Japan/France/South Korea

This month's member's screening at the Loft pleased much more than last month's. This is essentially a collection of three shorts, (Well, 30-minutes anyway), unified only by their setting: Tokyo.

Up front it is odd that a Japanese studio wanted to make a film about Tokyo and so asked three foreigners to do it. I think, however, the idea is that you are getting an outsider's perspective - appropriate for a cosmopolitan melting pot.

Michel Gondry comes as the most recognizable name to American audiences. I must say that his short "Interior Design" is surprisingly the most normal, (Or I should say least unusual), of the three. It is also, I feel, the most well-written and well acted.

The quick summary is that a young couple move to Tokyo. The man is an aspiring filmmaker, the woman is directionless. They are crowded into a friend's tiny apartment while they search for one of their own. Relationship drama. Comedy. The freefalling woman starts to fall apart, and then she transforms into a chair.

A chair.

She can switch back and forth, thankfully, and so hijinx ensue. Ultimately she seems to find happiness as a voyeuristic piece of furniture in some young musician's house. The end.

This is a quite enjoyable piece, but I must criticize it for two things. First, the transformation seems completely unmotivated. This is more or less a normal film about normal people until all of a sudden *bamf!* chair.

After that there is of course the subtle misogyny of turning a woman into a goddamn piece of furniture. Well, let me rephrase that a little: You have a woman who is doing nothing with herself, who is being pushed by everyone to have more ambition. She seems on the verge of some personal transformation, which is a cue for this quirky film to use the metaphor of literal transformation, but instead of redeeming herslf and becoming something greater, she only reinforces her failure by becoming a goddamn piece of furniture.

This seems like something Margaret Atwood would write, except Atwood would be rife with bitter irony. Here Gondry seems to just be playing a thoughtless joke on his female protagonist. The vibe you get is "Ha ha! Silly woman turned into a silly chair. Women are silly." This lady is actually happy that she is furniture. It's all she ever was!

The second short by Leos Carax, "Merde," is easily my favorite, not because it is objectively the best of the three, but because it appeals to my odd sense of humor and absurdism. If I had been asked to make a short for this movie I would have come up with something like this.

Essentially it is a riff on the giant-monster movie genre, but without any giant monsters. Complete with old Godzilla music, Tokyo is terrorized by an extremely eccentric man who lives in the sewers and comes to the surface and acts like an asshat. Brilliant.

Funny news bulletins. Candid public reactions. Utter weirdness. I'm just goingto leave it at that. In its way it is the least meaningful of the shorts, but also the most perfect, as it completely succeeds at everything it tries to do.

The last short, "Shaking Tokyo," is also quite good, but much more somber than the other two. It follows a hikikomori - what we in America might call an agoraphobic - through his strange, isolated life. His world is disrupted when a pizza delivery girl faints in his appartment and he has to try to wake her up.

Where it goes from here is actually quite unexpected and surreal - apocalyptic, yet absurd. My only disappointment is the typical heteronormative narrative thread of man + woman = love = story. Still a good film.

Anyway, if you like these sort of "city shorts" movies like Night on Earth and Paris Je T'Aime then this one comes highly recommended.