Léos Carax’s ‘Merde,’ as in ‘Merde! I fell down le sewer again!’

Tokyo! is three 40-minute shorts by two French filmmakers, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Léos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge), and one South Korean director, Bong Joon-ho (The Host). The best of the three is Gondry's "Interior Design," and the worst is Carax's "Merde." In the middle is Bong's "Shaking Tokyo," which is about a hikikomori—an urban recluse, a person who has deliberately isolated him- or herself from social life and lives day by day with only a minimum of interaction with the world outside. All three films have one fantastic element. In Gondry's short, it is a woman who changes into a chair; in Carax's, it is an alien race; in Bong's, it is a tattoo of a button that changes the mood of a woman when it is pressed.

Like The Lovers on the Bridge, Carax's short—which, also like The Lovers on the Bridge, stars the ugliest man in French cinema, Denis Lavant—is too loud and bombastic. Carax goes after the 20th-century history of not just Tokyo but of Japan. By making Lavant into a mini-Godzilla, Carax smashes to pieces the seemingly pleasant surface that represses Japan's racist, xenophobic, and militaristic energies. The short is too loud, extreme, and messy. Carax has no sense of delicacy and care. He has the kind of mind that likes rough sex. Bong's short, on the other hand, is just too slow, but it has a very sweet ending and a terrific earthquake sequence. Gondry's short, "Interior Design," is simply marvelous. It's about a couple who move to Tokyo on a rainy night and crash in their friend's small pad while trying to find their own place. The couple's plans quickly collapse, and there is little or no hope of them finding a new place and steady work. The mounting pressure instigates a strange transformation, and the short ends in a truly wonderful and warm place. "Interior Design" restored my faith in Gondry's imagination. recommended