Kiyoshi Kurosawa's two most recent films, Loft (2005) and Retribution (2006), were both released last month on DVD in Hong Kong. I have been a fan of Kurosawa's films since seeing Cure in the late 90s and I snatched up these two new ones as soon as they were released. Although Kurosawa's career is full of highs and lows, working in TV, straight to video and major theatrical releases, I am a defender of his work to a fault. Cure, Kairo and Bright Future still stand out as three of the most enigmatic contemporary films out there, as they subtly riff off genre standards and transform into explorations of our postmodern psyche. Because I have such a profound respect for these films, it is easier for me to forgive Kurosawa for his shortcomings. Unfortunately, I am going to have to lump Loft in with the head-scratchers, that in the end, despite some great filmmaking, fails to live up to almost any expectations you might have.
Loft starts out convincingly creepy enough. Reiko is a writer, stuck at her keyboard in her small apartment, chain smoking, laboriously typing, and occasionally dropping to the floor in a coughing fit that produces something close to chunky tar. Soon enough it becomes clear that Reiko is a young successful writer who is having her first case of writers block. Her passive aggressive editor, who demands that he will not take anymore excuses for her lack of productivity, finds her a large quiet house in the country that becomes the fateful loft. From there the plot spirals out of control, involving mummies, murder, ghosts and love. We forget about the chunky tar because we have moved on to other elements in the story that are just as random and unexplained.
Reiko realizes that the building next door is an old university lab where an archaeologist nurtures an unnatural obsession with a female mummy he just pulled up from a nearby lake. When things start going in a completely illogical direction, I try to make the best of it and look at allegorical metaphors for the absurdity. The archaeologist asks Reiko to keep his beloved mummy in her house for "just a couple of days." She agrees and proceeds to keep it in her bedroom. I spend some time mulling over what this mummy might symbolize between all the various parties as the film continues to elude all logic. Out of nowhere the two main characters start madly digging up an imaginary grave and proclaiming their undying love for one another, and as the film careens even further out of control, I throw in the towel. It's is just as well, because the love story turns into a murder mystery and then turns back into a horror film for the grand finale.
Kurosawa himself admits he was experimenting with multiple genres, and realized early on that it was not being accepted because of this. I couldn't help but think about Sino Sono's Suicide Club, where he seemed to use his experience in softcore porn to formulate the arbitrary story. One thing generally led to another in Suicide Circle, even if it was wacky, but in Loft, Kurosawa seems to start the story only to just discard it and start over with the same characters and setting, over and over again. I don't mind having the rug pulled out from underneath me, but this was just going to far.
If you have a short term memory, this might actually be a good movie. There are truly scary moments and great images that lingered with me long after the movie was over. There is also a great use of white noise that conveys the oppression of open space and 'silence.' Unfortunately none of this helps in connecting the dots that Kurosawa seemed so careful to point out in this film. This may be one film I am unwilling to defend.