Release date: September 17 2007
Running time: 90m
Director: Ataru Oikawa
APARTMENT 1303 (2007) is a modern-day ghost story built on the J-Horror foundations laid down by films such as RINGU (1998) and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2003). It is directed by Ataru Oikawa writer-director of TOMIE (1999) and TOMIE: REVENGE (2005) and co-written by bestselling Japanese novelist, Kei Oishi (THE LAST SUPPER, 2005).
The titular thirteenth-floor apartment is part of a huge building situated in a desirable location by the sea. But behind the airy, light décor and picturesque setting lies a shocking history of inexplicable, but apparently coincidental, suicides by several of 1303's former tenants, all of them young women who have recently left home.
The most recent resident, Sayaka Midorika, is in the middle of her unpacking party. She and her friends are telling ghost stories and, celebrating moving into the first apartment of her own when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to a closet in the bedroom. Returning to the living room moments later, Sayaka dons her scooter helmet and without any warning runs to the balcony and over the edge as her horrified friends look on helplessly.
Refusing to believe Sayaka could possibly have committed suicide, her elder sister, Mariko, begins to investigate the history of Apartment 1303 and its tenants in the hope of finding some clue as to why Sayaka fell to her death. The estate agent totally avoids talking about the apartment’s history and appears uneasy whenever it is mentioned, but a detective arrives to assist Mariko in her search for answers. Mariko discovers, with the help of the detective, that Sayaka is the fifth suicide. He also tells her about Yukiyo, a girl who lived in the apartment with her mother and shows her sensational newspaper headlines and a book written about the pair. This information coupled with the clues she finds around the place; a teddy bear, an earring and Sayaka’s mobile phone, leads Mariko to uncover a bizarre story involving alcoholism, mental illness, physical and mental abuse, murder and retribution.
From the onset of the film Oikawa creates a series of contrasts. The tracking shot of the corridor gives way to the bright interior of the vacant apartment. Shots of the calm idyllic setting from the balcony are followed by the shocking death of a girl who falls from the balcony after unpacking her cases. And, as Mariko will discover, the brightly lit apartment contains a dark secret.
Stephen King’s work seems to have been somewhat influential on the film. The apartment block could be an oriental seaside variation of The Overlook Hotel from THE SHINING (USA, 1980, d. Stanley Kubrick). It dominates all who encounter it. As Sayako’s friends arrive for the unpacking party they are viewed from a high-angle shot from the balcony - so they appear small. In another low-angle shot, Mariko is shown looking up at the building; she is totally dwarfed by the imposing building. And, as in all good films set in apartments, there are some very odd neighbours. The little girl who resides in apartment 1302 with her drunken mother tells Mariko that her sister is still there.
Whilst the setting of the film recalls THE SHINING, the relationship between the ill-fated Yukiyo and her mother seems informed by CARRIE (USA, 1976, d. Brian De Palma); in fact, during a dream sequence, there is a blatant visual reference to De Palma’s version of King’s novel.
The director has created a creepy, atmospheric, supernatural tale. I liked the scene where Mariko experiences a rumbling sensation in the apartment, “An earthquake, is that all?” she says. She realizes that the disturbance is natural rather than supernatural. But only in the world of the J-Horror ghost story could the sudden intrusion of an earthquake be considered a relief. The slow build up of clues and quest for the truth is slightly marred by an unnecessarily (dare I say) over-the-top sequence in the third act involving three girls. This sequence merely detracts from what the director has previously achieved. But on the whole this is a worthy entry into the J-Horror genre.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound