Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (Isabel Coixet, 2009)
About twenty minutes before the end of the interminable Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, a couple of things clicked into place. Suddenly I thought I had the movie figured out, and I was about to cut it a whole hell of a lot of slack because that plot twist was absolutely brilliant, nothing you haven’t seen before but the setup was subtle and well-grounded and kind of astonishing. I figured out why ten minutes later; I was entirely wrong. Coixet (Elegy), who also wrote, either had no idea what she’d slipped in at that point, or had meant that as a red herring. In the former case, the movie just goes back to being interminable. In the latter case, it fills me with the kind of rage I reserve for movies whose directors are so inept they should never be allowed behind a camera again (I won’t name names, but a quick trip through my hundred-worst list noting directors who appear more than once should produce a concise list). I’m trying to be generous and stick with the former interpretation, but if you have the misfortune of watching this movie, stick around until after the credits and check out the final shot of the film. It reinforces some of what I’m going to say below, and it drove me up the wall.
Plot: Narrador (The Twilight Samurai‘s Min Tanaka)’s daughter recently committed suicide. He’s not happy about it, and he blames her boyfriend David (Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Sergi López). Narrador wants revenge. David, meanwhile, meets a new woman, Ryu (Norwegian Wood‘s Rinko Kikuchi), and the two of them begin the ghost of an affair, one in which David has no qualms in telling Ryu that when he’s with her, she’s just a stand-in for his dead girlfriend. Oddly, she seems okay with this. On the other hand, that is far from the weirdest thing that is going on in this movie.
Now, everyone who has delved into modern Japanese cinema—even on the surface these days, with Machine Girl having become a cult smash on this side of the pond—is probably well that weird stuff happens. The Japanese have taken the concept of “magical realism” and thrown it completely off the rails. (Two words: Haruki Murakami.) But the second half of that magical concept is realism; in movies like Hellevator, or even Executive Koala, there’s an internal consistency to what’s going on. The events in these movies make sense within the universe that the scriptwriter and director have created. And then we have Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. There’s the guy who walks around wearing a suit made of bushes. He appears twice in the movie. (Note: I assume this is a male character, but am unsure.) He does nothing in the movie except appear, and as far as I can tell, the only reason for his existence is for Coixet to say “hey, look, I can do that whole weird stuff happens thing, too!”. Except that it’s not connected to anything, unless I missed something, and thus it’s not internally consistent, it’s gratuitous… and I’m so annoyed by this I just lopped off an entire star. This is what happens when you don’t finish writing your reviews on the day you finish watching the movie. *