Omnibus projects are generally a patchwork of individual visions built around a broad subject—some embarrassing, some more salvageable, and almost never a cohesive whole. They tend to make for lumpy, uneven viewing experiences, and the main reason they exist at all is that there’s no market for unpackaged short films. So credit a trio of first-rate directors—Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), Leos Carax (The Lovers On The Bridge) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host)—for joining forces on Tokyo!, an unusually (and perhaps accidentally) tight anthology that tackles the city from a science-fiction/fantasy vantage. The entries aren’t equally strong, of course, but each comes from a sharp outsider’s perspective, approaching Tokyo as a strange, mysterious organism that infects the populace.
Pulling back slightly from the whimsy that choked his most recent films, The Science Of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, Gondry directed “Interior Design,” which follows a young filmmaker and his girlfriend looking for jobs and a place to live, but in the meantime crashing in a friend’s absurdly cramped studio apartment. They have varying degrees of success—his career gets a boost, while she flounders listlessly—and the changed dynamic between them manifests in Cronenbergian fashion as she starts to mutate. Gondry’s homemade science-fiction effects make the short recognizably his, but it’s notable more for his keen interest in architecture and space, and the subtle, quirky bits of human observation.
Gondry’s fellow Frenchman Leos Carax hasn’t made a movie since 1999’s Pola X, but he picks up where he left off with “Merde,” a politically loaded black comedy that’s as wild-eyed and crazy as Carax’s feral muse, Denis Lavant. Here, Lavant stars as a half-man/half-beast who subsists on flowers and cash, and rises up from the sewers to prank the citizens and bring anarchy to the city at large. Carax covers his first appearance via a bravura, convulsively funny Steadicam sequence, but the short rapidly descends into leaden commentary on terrorism.
That leaves Bong to pick up the pieces with “Shaking Tokyo,” a refined, moving tale about a hikikomori (a person who refuses to leave his apartment) drawn out of his shell by an earthquake and a pizza deliverywoman. His courage to finally step outside happens to coincide with an event that drives everyone else in the city indoors, but Bong, far from the socially charged mayhem of Memories Of Murder and The Host, settles for a bittersweet tone that leads Tokyo! to a soft landing.