5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: 2LDK
Women are crazy. This is a fact that has been proven time and time again. That isn’t to say Men don’t bring their own brand of crazy as well but when it comes to cinema, man do writers and directors love to show just how crazy women can be. This brings us to 2LDK, a pretty great little Japanese film that is all about building tension between two women until they let their crazy just explode all over each other. Writer/Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi takes a scenario of 2 women sharing a small apartment and showing how both, at their core, are potentially the same person despite their different backgrounds. This is about what happens when two competitive people push against each other from the outset and that pushing leads to shoving… and punching and stabbing.
The film itself came about in a most unique way. See when a movie Producer and two feature directors decide to go drinking weird things can happen. In this case Tsutsumi went drinking with producer Shinya Kawai and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura. Kawai put forth a simple challenge. Make a movie with two principle characters, with a conflict between the two taking place in one primary location for the entire film. That scenario is a task unto itself but Kawai then added his stipulation, get the whole thing made in one week’s time. Now even with the rapid fire production schedules of most Asian films, that is a challenge. If you factor in the fact that both Kitamura and Tsutsumi usually make some pretty good movies when left to their own devices then one week would seem an almost impossible amount of time to write a story, find actors for the film and then come up with a completely insane shooting schedule to get everything done in time. To take the challenge is crazy enough, for both to take the challenge and NOT make two incomprehensible Ed Wood level films is just unbelievable. But both men rose to the challenge and the result are 2 very different, but very entertaining films. The end result was called The Duel Project. Kitamura’s result was Aragami, a movie that we will discuss in a few days during these movie reviews. Tsutsumi’s result was a piece of psychodrama simply titled 2LDK.
In Japan, finding a place to live is trouble enough, especially when you consider that Japan is one of the most densely populated places on Earth with such a small amount of space for its expanding populace. The concept of a luxury apartment is something most city dwelling Japanese only dream about and with good reason. Luxury Apartments are very expensive. 2LDK is basically like a Realtor code for potential renters indicating 2 Bedroom, Living Room, Dining Room and Kitchen. So when a young girl from the countryside, with dreams of being an actress gets set-up in the big city with a nice apartment thanks to the talent agency she signed with, things might seem pretty good. This is how it is going for Nozomi (Eiko Koike). Things are seemingly falling into place for her, as her agency has her lined-up to audition for a TV role. But the good times are not to last, as Nozomi’s agency sets her up with a roommate named Rana (Maho Nonami), who is also auditioning for the same show. The two are seeming opposites of each other. Nozomi is demure and quiet, Rana is flashy and outspoken. It is the City Mouse and The Country Mouse trying to share an apartment, but as opposed to being cousins with different ideas of what living is, these mice are trying to have the EXACT SAME life. Things are not helped in the least by the fact that both women are basically waiting for the same phone call.
Waiting for that phone call only adds to the mounting tension between the 2. Petty words escalate to personal attacks. Personal attacks escalate to destruction of property. Destruction of property leads to a plethora of forms of physical violence. It is a rapid succession of 2 women repeatedly trying to kill each other. Hell it is also the ways that they try to kill each other. Each attempt by one leads to a more extreme retaliation from the other. The attempted homicide rate on this ranges from arson, drowning and strangulation to the fun time that is attempted murder via electricity and of course, as I mentioned before, stabbing. Hell after all that physical drama THEN they try for psycho-sexual-damage with the kissing. Of course after all is said and done both women have managed to successfully kill one another and then the ironic twist at the end comes. Both women got parts in the TV show they auditioned for. The outcome of the movie is never in doubt. Rana was to extreme a personality for Nozomi to cope with, so of course Nozomi fights fire with fire and pays the price for becoming something she wasn’t meant to be. The last twenty minutes of this movie is an example of cinematic crossbreeding at its finest, as Writer/Director Tsutsumi has Taken The Odd Couple and forced it to mate with the Keith David/Roddy Piper fight scene from They Live.
In the end Tsutsumi has given us 70 minutes of commentary about a myriad subjects and for each of them the end result is violence. The overcrowding of Japan leads to these 2 meeting each other, loathing each other and killing each other. It addresses the conflict between what remains of the rural countryside of Japan, its residents and how they approach things differently than those dwelling in large urban areas. It also addresses the nature of the latter and how it affects not just person to person relationships but how female to female sexual-politics are affected by the complexity of their previous living environment. If both Rana and Nozomi had similar backgrounds, one could surmise that the end result of the movie would be very different. The problem is that they are both competitive females, with different backgrounds. They are polar opposites with no hope of friendship, just a constant need to be better than the other. Make no mistake that Rana is a totally magnificent bitch in how she treats her roommate, but Nozomi letting Rana abuse her to the point where her only option is to mentally snap in retaliation is nobody’s fault but her own.
2LDK is a vicious movie. Its characters show that one should not judge physical cruelty and mental abuse as things that are relegated solely to the domain of the male of the species. Women are just as mean, vicious and damaging to one another as they are to men, in fact this movies shows that they can be more so. In the end what 2LDK ends up being is a multi-layered story about 2 people who end up in the way of one another’s ambition. In a sense society is punishing them for that ambition, by making these 2 people who have no business meeting, let alone living together, share an apartment. Society takes its form via the Talent Agency both women contract through that thought sticking them together was a good idea. Tsutsumi gives the viewer everything that the challenge of The Duel Project asked of him. He does so, bluntly, with direct conflict and resolution. The resolution is violent and brutal but it gets its point across in the end. Sadly that point is just a little too late for Rana and Nozomi. They literally drive each other crazy and make a viewer contemplate living alone for awhile.
When I get to the review of Aragami in a few days, the different approach that Tsutsumi and Kitamura take to the concept of The Duel Project makes one reconsider exactly what the term “Conflict” can mean. 2LDK is the more brutal and visceral of the 2 movies. It is the punch in the face of female to female relationship movies. It was less Thelma & Louise and way more Ali/Frazier from The Thrilla In Manila. So watch this movie to see what the hell I’m talking about. You may like it, you might end up loathing it but after all is said and done I guarantee you will at least come away knowing you watched something different and a little unique.