JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press Writer

CANNES, France (AP) Isabel Coixet's new film, "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo," has three stars actors Rinko Kikuchi and Sergi Lopez, and the Japanese city itself, a place the Spanish filmmaker says she loves.

Like another Cannes Film Festival contender Argentina-born director Gaspar Noe's hallucinatory drug trip "Enter the Void" the movie revels in the sights and sounds of Tokyo, its neon-drenched streets, tryst-friendly "love hotels" and neighborhood noodle bars.

Barcelona-born Coixet wants the city to look exciting but not exotic. She's obsessed with exploring cultural similarities rather than differences.

"There's always this image of Japan and the Japanese the idea that the Japanese are very different, people who live as it were behind a screen, people who react in a different way," Coixet said Saturday. "The first time I went to Japan, some 15 years ago, I felt myself very much at home.

"In Catalonia, we always say that we are the only country in the world where, while we are eating dinner, we talk about the next dinner," she added. "But in Tokyo they do exactly the same thing."

"Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" centers on two star-crossed characters adrift in Tokyo. Ryu (Kikuchi, an Academy Award nominee for "Babel") is a taciturn fish-market worker and occasional contract killer. David ("Pan's Labyrinth" star Lopez) is a wine-store owner devastated by his girlfriend's suicide. When Ryu is hired to bump him off, the pair develop a tentative, enigmatic relationship.

"Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" is one of 20 films competing for the festival's top prize and has been praised for presenting the central sexual relationship which unfolds in a hotel room fitted out like a Paris subway car in a way that focuses on the pleasure of the female character. Trade magazine Variety called Lopez's David "almost the perfect arthouse stud monkey," eager to please his female companion.

"When you're making a film you don't leave your own personality at home," said Coixet, 47. "I am a woman It's my way of expressing maybe my own sexual fantasies. Not that I've ever had sex in a hotel like this but why not?"

Kikuchi's hit woman is the latest in a series of strong female characters from Coixet, who also wrote the movie. Her films include 2003's "My Life Without Me" which starred Sarah Polley as a dying woman seeing to her family's well-being after she's gone and last year's "Elegy," an adaptation of Philip Roth's novel "The Dying Animal" that starred Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley.

As the film's title suggests, "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" is an aurally rich film. It's light on dialogue, heavy on the sounds of the city from the pop of a wine cork to the slice of a knife through fresh fish and features a moody, jazz-drenched score.

"In all my films up until now, there is always a character who sits down and has a three- or four-page monologue about the past and the ghosts of the past," Coixet said. "This time I decided to trust the soundtrack and the images. I decided not to make too much use of words."

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