Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Apartment 1303

"Apartment 1303" is yet another entrant into the never ending parade of J-Horror films that all seem to bleed together. They all feature a lead character who must investigate the mysterious death of a loved one all the while being haunted by a pale-faced ghost girl with long, black hair. The film is based on a novel by author Kei Oishi whose most famous book, The Grudge, spawned a series of successful films in his native Japan as well as two in America. Oishi is also responsible for the ultra-creepy, "The Last Supper", which was based on an original idea about a plastic surgeon who ate the flesh of his female patients. "Apartment 1303" has none of the flair or creepiness of its predecessors. To say it pales in comparison to films like "Ju-On" or "The Shining" is an understatement. It´s not even up to snuff compared to the recent "1408."

The film begins with a young woman moving into her brand-new apartment on the thirteenth floor. Before she can even unpack her belongings, she´s dangling over the balcony and an unseen force shoves her over the edge. One month later, the apartment is rented to Sayaka who has just moved away from home for the first time. Sayaka throws a housewarming party with her boyfriend, Ryota, and their friends. They can´t believe she got such a great apartment for so cheap. Sayaka notices a strange odor coming from the closet of one of the rooms. Suddenly, she emerges as a shell of herself. She shuffles across the floor like a zombie and starts munching down on dog food. Her friends have no idea what´s wrong with her. Before they can even get a straight answer, Sayaka dives off the balcony to her death.

Sayaka´s older sister, Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi), is shocked at her death. Their mother, who hasn´t fully recovered from their father´s death, is completely grief-stricken and begins withdrawing from reality. From a police detective named Sakurai (Arata Furuta), Mariko learns that there have been other suicides in the apartment going on for nearly three years. It all began with a girl named Sachiyo who lived with her alcoholic and abusive mother. Sachiyo jumped off the balcony and it was discovered her mother died six months prior and that Sachiyo had been living with her corpse since then. To unravel the circumstances behind her sister´s death, Mariko must delve into the strange deaths of Sachiyo and her mother. Along the way, she deals with a shady apartment manager and the rental company, neither of whom seem to have a problem with collecting rent money on a haunted apartment.

There is also a creepy mother and daughter who live right next door in 1302 who don´t seem too moved or broken up by any of the deaths they witness. I found it odd that in this spacious apartment building, there doesn´t seem to be anybody else living there. The reasoning behind the insanity of Sachiyo´s mother is never explained either. One scene, she´s a mean drunk and in the next she´s chewing on a water bottle until her gums are raw while scribbling nonsense on the walls. Perhaps, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" in Japanese?

"Apartment 1303" isn´t just derivative, it´s outright generic. The film goes through the motions without any kind of emotional weight or pathos. Mariko´s investigation is devoid of suspense, mystery, or thrills. It actually consists of nothing more than exposition and flashbacks strung together rather than real detective work. For lack of a better term, the acting is full of "actor-y" moments. I´m talking about overly melodramatic soap opera acting, instead of downplayed, nuanced performances. The actors scream, cry, wail, and flail about to subtly clue us into their depression. The film piles on the cheese even further with a bombastic score. As if screeching string instruments and booming horns are suddenly going to make us soil our underoos. Writer/Director Ataru Oikawa lends a pedestrian hand to proceedings. Say what you want about these redundant movies, but many of them still have some visual style. "Apartment 1303" lacks even that with not a single shot that leaps out at you. Finally, the film´s climax is filled with terrible special effects, including some laughably bad greenscreen work.
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