I think it might have been Sofia Coppola – was it in that awkward interview that was part of the DVD? — where she reveals that Lost in Translation didn’t have to be set in Tokyo, and could have been anywhere. (Or was that Danny Boyle talking about Mumbai and Slumdog Millionaire?) There’s an odd sense in which Tokyo!, the surreal cinematic triptych featuring films by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-ho, takes the city, its streets, and its cramped apartments for inspiration, but seemingly little else.
Part of what makes Tokyo! so potentially appealing to critics (and to myself, at least) was the backgrounds of its directors, none of whom were from Japan (or Tokyo, for that matter): one (Carax) from France, one (Bong) from South Korea, and one (Gondry) just possibly from outer space. The idea, I think, was that their particular national sensibilities – or, at least on a more generic level, their being not-Japanese – would inform and create different perspectives on Tokyo. But such an appeal, i.e., that difference, seems premised on a kind of national essence – whether Japanese or French or Korean – that doesn’t quite sit well with me. Still, here we have three very different directors, with different cinematic sensibilities (though I confess I haven’t seen anything else by Carax), but the result is something of a misfire all in all.
I’ve never been to Japan or Mumbai, but there’s something about those two films mentioned above in the first paragraph that’s very clearly anchored in location, even if storywise the plots can be transplanted. It seems, at first glance, that there’s nothing specifically Japanese about Tokyo!… and yet I find myself slipping into that same “fallacy” about Japaneseness. (How exactly would I envision something “typically” Japanese? Would I have been satisfied if Gondry animated some giant marauding Hello Kitty, creating havoc across a country landscape?)
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