Tokyo!'s triptych invites comparisons with preceding episodic urban films from Paris vu par... to Paris je t'aime. With its trio of outsider directors, though, Tokyo! avoids impossible attempts at summarizing its city setting, instead highlighting slippages between Japanese cultural priorities and globalized cosmopolitanism whose epicenter happens to be Tokyo.
Tokyo!'s young protagonists flee cultural anxieties and social responsibilities for refuges indoors, underground and in problematic relationships. In Michel Gondry's opening segment Interior Design, a newly arrived couple scours Tokyo for jobs and an apartment while staying at an increasingly bothered friend's studio. The episode's outcome–typically Gondrian because both delightfully imaginative and frustratingly childish–indulges Tokyo!'s central problem: cultural shyness and paralysis.
Subverting Gondry's comfort in hiding places, Leos Carax's segment, Merde, resembles a Godzilla parody. Its titular European caveman (Denis Lavant) emerges from sewers to terrorize slick Tokyo streets with chaotic grossness. When Merde, with his crazed look and gravity-defying beard, unwittingly graduates to actual terrorism, Carax's episode squanders its momentum in bizarre courtroom procedures. As Merde's trial concludes, though, Japan's (or at least Tokyo!'s) competing impulses toward regressive nationalism and neo-liberalism come into sharp focus in protest scenes reminiscent of Bong Joon-Ho's monster masterpiece The Host. Bong's segment, Shaking Tokyo, is the most muted and engaging. Its carefully shot and paced story, about a hikikomori (shut-in, played by Teruyuki Kagawa) emerging after 11 years to discover a shuttered city, pushes Tokyo!'s theme the furthest. If a psychic portrait of Tokyo emerges, it seems to also address a larger Japanese culture that could benefit from being shaken from some of its routines. Or maybe that's just how it looks to three visiting filmmakers.