It is probably no secret that I am a major fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s work. His use of locations dredges up the creepiest buildings in Tokyo, his direction is impeccable in creating an unnerving atmosphere, his interest in characters disjointed from reality leads to getting hypnotic performances from his actors, his ability to weave the supernatural into everyday urban decay is convincing, all of this makes for compelling stories, modern nightmares that leave me grinning at the imagination and suggestions regardless of the sense of an encroaching apocalypse in every ending. So when Loft’s ending caused me to burst into laughter that should be a bad thing right?
Reiko Haruna is a popular prize-winning romance novelist who is suffering writer’s block and sickness causing her to hallucinate and vomit black liquid. She decides to leave Tokyo and agrees with a move to an isolated house in the countryside, a suggestion her editor Kijima (Hidetoshi Nishijima) comes up with in the hope it will get her to write faster. Unfortunately the house has faulty lights and the previous occupant left all of their stuff after suddenly disappearing, not to mention the fact that there is a spooky vacant building behind it which is supposedly a training centre part of Sagami University. One night she goes to balcony and spots her neighbour unloading what looks like a body from back of his 4×4, taking it to the building. Intrigued she digs around and finds out that he is Makoto Yoshioka (Etsushi Toyokawa), an anthropologist who became famous after discovering a thousand year old mummy named Midori in a nearby swamp. Reiko and Makoto find themselves drawn together, their problems facilitating contact with each other. These problems include Reiko being bullied by her increasingly aggressive editor and Yoshioka having serious misgivings about handling the mummy. Soon both find themselves plagued by disturbing visions as multiple dangers converge on them.
Kurosawa once again skilfully creates an atmosphere that plugs you into a mire of dread as he lets the story slowly unfold. Old film footage, two decrepit buildings and an impenetrable and primal wilderness are the backdrop and tension builders for this suspense-filled film. Kurosawa has taken a holiday from his familiar haunted Tokyo and dragged us to a haunted swamp. How charming.
Mise-en-scène is perfect as Kurosawa creates fields of anxiety, using background and lighting to convey movement, and the supernatural. A lot of this is familiar – ghost behind a tree slowly looming out etc. but there are two supernatural siege sequences in the haunted house that really impress, the camera gliding around following Reiko in long-takes as the ghost pops up at various locations playing hide and seek. Creepy stuff.
Populating this film are Miki Nakatani (Ring 2, Memories of Matsuko) and Etsushi Toyokawa (20th Century Boys) who portray characters affected by a malaise and apathy that rarely lifts and begins to affect the audience. Both Reiko and Yoshioka seem unable to react effectively to the events around them as if they have been hypnotised by the environment and have become inured to the violence and horror surrounding them. SPOILERS in the next paragraph!
Then in a series of twists the film becomes something much more vicious and hilarious. I must admit to being able to guess the direction of the film but it wrong-footed me when it plunged into romantic melodrama as Reiko and Yoshioka come to life, struggling out of their apathetic performances, racing around and fighting for each other. It is almost as if Kurosawa is mocking other J-horror films especially with the sweeping music. That sequence finished he heads back to horror which would have been almost reassuring but for a series of twists that left me stunned and laughing. I loved how the ending just seemed like an existential shrug of the film’s shoulders, “That’s it. Did you really I’d lost my mind? It was an experiment in tone to catch you off-guard, so there.”
All in all a rather enjoyable film. It features Kurosawa’s brilliant ability at making nightmare fuel with locations, mise-en-scène and sharp writing before venturing into unexpected territory.
Japanese: LOFT ロフト
Romaji: Loft Rofuto
Release Date: October 08th, 2005 (Japan)
Running Time: 115 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Miki Nakatani, Etsushi Toyokawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yumi Adachi, Sawa Suzuki, Karuhiko Kato, Ren Osugi, Noriko Eguchi