"Tokyo Is Dreaming is simply one of the most beautiful works of art I've ever experienced."
—Dogo Barry Graham, Illusory Flowers in an Empty Sky
2009 Empire Film Reviews by David Parkinson
A similarly phantasmagoric aura pervades Taiwanese artist Peter I. Chang's "Tokyo Is Dreaming", which receives its world premiere at Berwick. Despite opening with Ozu-like pillow shots across the rooftops of the sleeping capital, this quickly adopts the avant-garde city symphony style developed in the 1920s by Walter Ruttmann and Dziga-Vertov. The tranquility of the deserted tube station can't last long, for example, and people rapidly begin to scurry through the ticket barriers and down the escalators to be packed into trains that snake through the soulless urban landscape like electric eels, with their powerlines being made to seem more gnarled and alienating by the use of slow-motion and superimposition, as well as the reflections on the windows of the densely packed buildings whizzing past outside.
There's even a nod to Dutch maestro Joris Ivens in the rainy day sequence, in which the monochrome camera alights on raindrops splashing on the tarmac, the shimmer of abstract light shapes in the puddles and the isolating pragmatism of the umbrellas that the purposeful pedstrians are carrying. No one seems to notice anybody else and this sense of self-containment continues in the grainy shots of a ritual inside a Buddhist temple and then in the footage of the Honen Matsuri, a Shinto procession that takes place annually on 15 March to ensure a good harvest and which involves giant wooden phalluses being carried through the streets on biers while onlookers devour indecently shaped ice lollies.
As a street performer juggling knives is escorted out of a park by a combination of keepers and the police, Chang crosscuts between images of a nationalist rally and newsreels from the Tojo militarist era and draws some chilling similarities. He also makes striking contrasts between a variety of futurist objects and Tokyo's modernist architecture, with the segment seeming to conclude that the steel and glass structures in which citizens spend so much of their lives have reduced them to goldfish floating without much cognisance in an aimless existence.
This sombre concept lingers, as an old man with a long grey beard shuffles unnoticed through the crowds enjoying the Sakura cherry blossom ceremony, just as the beggars and the recumbent homeless have been ignored before him. Even when darkness falls and the streetlights and neon signs flicker into life, the salarymen tend to keep to themselves as they unwind in multi-storey driving ranges, sake bars and fast food kiosks, knowing that all that awaits them at home is the same old rubbish on the telly. With passing allusions to the likes of Duchamp, Léger, Man Ray, Fischinger and Eggeling stippling the action, this is an astute and assured tableau that's compellingly counterpointed by a score by Calexico's John Convertino. And, in the end, everyone has to do it all over again the next morning, as the final montage closes in on sleeping faces as a train hurtles the somnambulant capitalists towards another day's toil.