This triptych of tales set in the titular city of Tokyo suggests an Eastern version of NEW YORK STORIES, but there is a significant difference: in this case, none of the three writer-directors (two French and one Korean) are natives; consequently, their short films emerge less as love letters to the city than as skewed points of view from outsiders looking in on what what they consider to be a strange, exotic land, bordering on a freak show. With their surreal touches, fanciful symbolism, and at least one outright refernce to Japanese kaiju cinema, TOKYO! emerges as a boderline genre effort – not quite a fantasy film but definitely a curious piece of cinefantatique. Unfortunately, the weirdness is not always entertaining – in some cases it is merely boring – but there is enough going on to make this interesting for fans of art house cinema.
If there is a consistency among the three episodes, it is that they avoid presenting familiar images of Tokyo as a glistening metropolis (contradicting the promise of the animated opening titles). The endeavor to avoid the obvious is admirable, but as a consequence the city never emerges as a memorable character in its own right, and ultimately the stories do not seem particularly endemic to the location (except perhaps for “Merde,” with its references to Godzilla).
There also seems to have been an effort to craft stories that were poetic, not to mention enigmatic, but the results are only partially successful, more resembling after-dinner anecdotes that hold your attention until coffee is served. All of the episodes have points of interest, but none of them are particularly profound, and they don’t add up to a particularly interesting portrait of Tokyo as a city of dreams or disappointments or anything else in particular. Taken as individual episodes, TOKYO! offers three tales that are worth watching if you have a predilection for the subject matter, but the whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts.
UPDATE: After finishing its run at the Nuart on Thursday, March 26, TOKYO will expand into three other theatres in Los Angeles: the Regent Westwood, the Laemmle Sunset, and the Laemmle Pasadena.
APRIL 3 UPDATE: The film is still playing in three theatres around L.A.: the Landmark Regent in Westwood, the Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 in Alhambra, and the U.A. Marketplace -Long Beach 6 in Long Beach.