December 08, 2009

LOFT (2006) Kiyoshi Kurosawa's toys in the attic

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(2005, Japan, Shi no otome)

A young writer is sent to a remote house to concentrate on her next novel. But she notices some strangeness happening in the house opposite. Like a handsome man carrying what looks like a dead body in a sheet. Intrigued by both him and what he's doing, she investigates the house and discovers a 1000-year old corpse. The mummified body might also be connected to why she's started vomiting up black mud...

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (Pulse) helped lead the J-horror boom - with even more creepiness than Ring and matching it's shock moments as well. I've kept trying his movies, enjoying Sakebi (Retribution) despite not fully understanding it. Kurosawa's films seem to fit inside the horror genre, but often meander into the world of arthouse, where symbolism and mood are often more important than story. I've enjoyed his films by immersing myself in their atmosphere, without concentrating too much on the intricacies of narrative and character and what he's actually trying to say.

But I'm annoyed with Loft. Spoiling a perfectly fine horror film in the last segment of the film. While slow-moving, there's plenty of scares and creep-outs, but suddenly the characters are acting all, well, out-of-character and the cameraman seems to, well, fall over. It then gets back on track after a strange series of creative freakouts, but the final capper to the whole film hangs on a very poor special effect, that could almost be an intentional joke, and a pratfall. I'm not amused.

You'll have probably seen the leading actors - Miki Nakatani as Reiko the writer, also played Mai in Ring and Ring 2 as well as starring in Memories of Matsuko. Etsushi Toyokawa as the distinctive-looking professor was also the black-clad super-baddie in Yokai Daisenso - The Great Goblin War.

This reviewer for
Cinema Strikes Back identifies elements of satire in the film - I wish I'd known beforehand. But even accepting that the director is playing with the genre, there are several sloppy scare moments that simply look mis-timed (like the hand on the corner of the window, featured heavily in the posters).

Unsurprisingly, this hasn't been rushed into a DVD release in the west, despite the director's cult reputation and the intriguing trailer. I found this on DVD in Malaysia (from PMP) which has very good English subtitles, but the picture has been savagely cropped from widescreen to full screen by simply lopping off both sides (a crude 'centre-cut' to adapt the widescreen image to old-style TVs). Not the best way to see a carefully visual film, but the only subtitled DVD I know of.

Loft is one of those films that I'll need to read more about before I stand a chance of appreciating it. In the meantime, I'd better take a break and try out one of Kurosawa's non-horror movies. Tokyo Sonata looks very promising...


  1. Holy shit, the atmosphere is affecting me even in still form. I can't imagine the dread of seeing the film.

    Kurosawa is awesome!

  2. I've not seen LOFT, but have seen many Kurosawa films and even interviewed him at one point. I personally doubt LOFT was intended to be satirical; I think we can safely say that Kurosawa films don't generally possess a great sense of humour and when he tries to be funny (DOPPELGANGER - give me THE MAN WHO HANTED HIMSELF anyday!) the results aren't particularly pleasing. Of course, when something raises laughs it's easy to say afterwards that It was supposed to.

    I also doubt his heart is in horror any more. If he's working in J-horror genre it's merely for the paycheck. He does have an affinity for the horror film, but his favourite director is Godard. And I think Kurosawa likes to think he uses horror in a similar way to how Godard used the films of Nick Ray and Sam Fuller (of whom Kurosawa is also a fan), and he strongly believes his films are "meaningful" in the worst sense of the word. Even his early Nikkatsu Roman Porno's are very Godardian.

    He has talent, most evident in his early work up to his breakthrough film CURE. After that we've had unforgivably pretentious rot such as CHARISMA and BRIGHT FUTURE whose failure presumably sent the director back into making genre films again. KAIRO was interesting but his other post-CURE horror films really haven't been all that good. The recent success of TOKYO SONATA may have elevated his stated once more, and given him another chance to break free of the J-horror ties.