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Friday, Aug. 22, 2008
Grappling with Japan
By KAORI SHOJI
They met in a cafe in Manhattan. She was working on a comic strip for her book, which was about a young artist and her quest for an apartment and a day job in Brooklyn. He was a successful French film director (although she didn't know this at the time) having coffee with his two small sons. The boys went over to Gabrielle Bell and asked to see what she was drawing. Then they asked if she would tutor them to draw comics, and their father got up to introduce himself.
"That's how it — we — started," said Bell, seated cozily against Michel Gondry, one of the directors for the omnibus movie "Tokyo!" The couple was in the city earlier this month to promote the movie and since Gondry's segment (titled "Interior Design") is based entirely on Bell's work "Cecil and Jordan in New York," it seemed natural that they would be interviewed together. Sharing the kind of shorthand communication that is common between two artists as well as private partners, Bell and Gondry added sentences to each other's answers or sought each other's confirmation to their replies. It was a session of interplay between two minds that have shared the same ideas, the same ideals and on this occasion — worked on the same project.
As a depiction of Tokyo, the segment was spot-on, but the conversation between the couple sounded more French than Japanese. Few Japanese couples would want to communicate with such intensity.
Gondry: Really? But then maybe that's true. Although, we kept confirming with the Japanese staff whether the conversations sounded all right. Afterward I was told that most young couples would be afraid to say too much to the other person for fear of hurting him or her.
The girl is underconfident and insecure. Young urban women, at least in modern cinema, are much more aggressive.
Bell: Lack of confidence is what drives me (laughs)! The story is based on the experience of a friend of mine, but of course, a lot of my own emotions are in there as well.
Gondry: I liked the idea of this girl with no confidence, who finds it difficult to deal with the modern, business-oriented world. Also, I was interested in seeing how the city affects people in different ways.
Bell: Like drawing different chemical reactions from them.
Gondry: Yes. Because when the couple first come to Tokyo, on that first night the girl is in control. She's the one driving, the one supervising their money. But the scales tip, and then she evolves.
Bell: In order to survive. An outside element causes some animals to grow fur, others to grow claws.
Gondry: Yes. I was interested to see why some people weaken and collapse but others, like the boyfriend, (he) gets confident, gains strength, and even starts to walk differently.
But that could happen in any other city.
Bell: Oh, yes. But I find that things and people are altogether kinder here than elsewhere.
Gondry: That's true. In New York, everyone walks like this (gets up to demonstrate), you know with their shoulders high and with big strides, like they're . . . "
Gondry: Yes. Very few people swagger here. They're driven by ambition, but they don't have to broadcast that all the time.
Bell: But people have to work incredibly long hours and can't take much time off.
Gondry: Still, they seem more with the world, they don't feel the need to be loud and self-assertive. Personally, I like people who are reluctant to sell themselves.
Bell: Yes, because then they have to be themselves, they're not putting something on.