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Revisiting the collaboration between Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho

Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho have had vastly different directorial trajectories over the course of their respective careers. While the French pioneer has only made a handful of films in a career that has spanned over 30 years, Bong Joon-ho has forged ahead with increasingly successful projects which have captured the attention of Western audiences as well.

Their artistic sensibilities are different from each other but they decided to come together for a particular omnibus film in 2008 called Tokyo! in which Carax and Bong joined forces with Michel Gondry to make a three-part project. The three directors worked on different stories revolving around the city of Tokyo, exploring the impact of modernity on the sprawling cityscape.

“In 2006 when I was finishing up on The Host, I was approached by comme des cinema to do the projects,” Bong recalled. “The allure and familiarity I felt towards the city of Tokyo plus my desire to create an ‘omnibus’ all drew me to say yes pretty quickly. At that time directors weren’t all selected. After several changes, near the end of 2006, the three directors were attached to this project.”

His segment was called Shaking Tokyo and follows the life of a hikikomori – a term used by Japanese people to refer to individuals who lead reclusive lives while being shut in their apartments. However, everything changes when a beautiful pizza delivery woman comes to the hikikomori’s apartment which takes his life in a different direction.

Bong explained: “This idea came to me while I was asking myself what story to tell with Tokyo in the centre, what does Tokyo mean to me, etc. I had an image of the people of Tokyo as oddly repressed, defensively lonely…I think I had a desire to wake them up, shake up and liberate such people. That’s where the title, Shaking Tokyo came from and how the motif of the earthquake also came about.”

Just like Carax’s other films, his segment is viscerally dark and depressing. Titled Merde, it tells the story of a subterranean ghoulish creature who assaults civilised society with his animalistic behaviour once he makes it above ground. The segment becomes a commentary on the mass psychosis perpetrated by modern civilisation, forcing us to confront the fundamental nature of our existence.

Carax admitted: “I can say that Merde is me but he also grew out of these times. He says he doesn’t like people but he loves life. What does that mean, and is it even possible? I want to ask questions like that of these terrorists, these extreme fundamentalists. There’s hate there, but there’s supposed to be faith and love and god, and there’s sexuality there because they think they’re going to fuck some virgins in heaven. It’s all very childish… I can kind of understand it.”

Gondry’s segment is equally surreal but in a completely different way, examining the effects of poverty in an expensive environment such as Tokyo. Due to these shifts in creative directions, many critics, as well as audience members, found that the omnibus project was unevenly made but appreciated the segments on their individual basis. This was exacerbated by the fact that the three directors did not even meet each other before the Cannes premiere.

Watch a segment from the unique omnibus film Tokyo! made by Leos Carax, Bong Joon-ho and Michel Gondry below.