2006Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Miki Nakatani, Etsushi Toyokawa, Ren Osugi
emember in Psycho when, after the ostensible denouement, Simon Oakland shows up, clears his throat, and conducts one of the most thorough psychoanalyses in all of cinema? Surely Hitchcock was compensating for his naïve audience, because fetishes, like, didn’t exist in 1960. Trivial, if necessary, the Oedipal dissection of Bates proves anything but prototypical in the case of modern psychosexual horror. Now that we get it, it’s sealed and delivered in obtuse Mystery Boxes, and leading J-horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa directs as if eternally compensating for the expository fillip. If Loft is his most ordinary work yet, it also approaches the avant-garde by permuting riffs on the ghost story more out of intuitive dissonance than sense or story. Engaging but reckless, Kurosawa’s got some ‘splainin’ to do, and could have done well to cast, say, his frazzled mainstay Koji Yakusho, a Japanese Oakland if there ever was one, as the all-knowing psychologist.
The facts as we know them: Reiko (Miki Nakatini) is an author in hibernation, transplanted to the rural loft in question that may or may not be haunted. Even when barfing up CGI tar, Reiko coolly lights up a cigarette in willed ignorance of her own health. But by the film’s end, she’s covered every phobia in the book (notably agora- and andro-). Relocation induces redefinition: If Cronenberg makes us fear ourselves, Kurosawa fears what we do to ourselves. Reiko’s neighbor, preservation expert Dr. Yoshioka (Etsushi Toyokawa), oscillates between villain and life-support. The two engage in mutual leering before he knocks on her door, taking the initiative with a line Neil Strauss apparently forgot to cover in his survey of the pick-up artist scene: “Will you take my mummy?”
She does, and countless doubts ensue, if no longer of Yoshioka. Other men in Reiko’s life include an ardent editor and a rampant serial killer, both of whom she greets with roughly the same petrified squeal. And while Kurosawa has a firm perspective on Reiko as a bit of a freak, she overplays it a tad. Any subversion in Kurosawa’s plan lies in empathy with both Reiko and Yoshioka’s psyches: She dreams of him dumping her in the nearby lake, while he dreams of rotted former lovers coming back to seek vengeance. This might’ve been an effective parallel of dream-lives had the supernatural not swallowed the movie whole.
Most of Kurosawa’s subjects form a roll call of the possibly scary. Trees! Clones! Chronic depression! Jellyfish! So, while plain old ghosts would promise to throw a clear light on his abilities, this is not quite the case. Kurosawa has always taken inordinately protracted dips in creepy atmosphere, defying slasher-flick rhythms by framing menace around ordinariness. Thus, when he employs old-fashioned scares in the form of ghosts around the corner and abrupt screams, it’s akin to the effect of typing “ahhh!” on the printed page. The conventional becomes awkward, and vaguely funny, but well, what’s the point?
Like the goth kids in high school who wear black six days a week and white on the seventh, Kurosawa does a mean brood and leaves reserves of odd levity on tap. But his willingness to guffaw often exposes limitations. Most prominent is an inability to do romantic melodrama without a clever smirk; having plumbed the depths of desperation, Reiko and Yoshioka assume the roles of eloping lovers, declaring earnest pledges with all the casualness of Romeo to Juliet. It’s questionable as character development and inert in execution, but presented as a blanket Yoshioka clumsily props over his dark past, it’s also hilarious. Kurosawa’s final move—asserting that dark past, and decrying love—is a tad cheap, but its tonal disparity is integral to his nutty personality. Loft is worth a look, if you grok Kiyoshi. Frankly, I don’t.