Pretty girls. Catfighting. Power tools. Judge Bill Gibron is steppin' large and laughin' easy watching this girl-on-girl duel.
Our review of Danger After Dark Collection, published August 3rd, 2006, is also available.
Roommates on a rampage!
Nozomi is a college graduate, in the big city of Tokyo for the first time. She hopes to parlay her high school stage experience into a career as a genuine actress. So far, she has merely functioned as a country girl pin-up, the symbol of a naïve young virgin. Lana is a seasoned pro, having spent time performing in movies that are far from legitimate. Hoping to leave her horrible past behind and start anew in Japan's metropolis, she has only managed to secure her reputation as a sexually indiscriminate woman.
These two ladies share a condominium owned by the talent agency they work for, and for a while, things appear to be working out. While Nozomi's shy reserve has a tendency to drive Lana nuts, the party girl is also a pain in her introverted roommate's behind. As luck would have it, both girls are up for the lead role in a major motion picture, Yakuza Wives, and each is also interested in the same man. When a casual conversation over dinner escalates into an all out battle of wills, the gals decide there is more to this war than who gets the part or who lands the guy. This is a struggle for personality survival, and our ferocious female fighters will duel to the death to determine who is supreme mistress of their 2LDK (two bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen) domain.
One night in Berlin, while watching their crewmembers drink each other under the table, noted young gun Japanese filmmakers Yukihiko Tsutsumi (Chinese Dinner) and Ryuhei Kitamura (Alive, Versus) stayed sober, and discussed an interesting personal proposition. Like the legendary gentlemen of old, they would prove who was the cinematic superior by having a motion picture "duel," a filmic face-off of styles and substance. The test was simple: each director would craft a story featuring only two characters and one setting. The tale must revolve around a "fight" or battle to the death. The only other restriction was that the movie had to be made in only seven days.
As Kitamura went about his career, Tsutsumi set about creating his entry in the clash. 2LDK turned out to be his, and the combat's, initial volley. Stunned that his adversary was already working on his project, Kitamura hastily assembled his own project, a samurai showcase entitled Aragami. Soon, the films were playing side by side at festivals around the world. While not a scientific certainty, many critics have awarded the "kill" to Tsutsumi, claiming his tale of two performing princesses slicing and dicing away at each other easily bested Kitamura's cobbled-together collection of swordfight clichés.
While this critic has yet to track down Aragami (all negative criticism aside, it sounds fascinating), it is clear that it would take a film of epic structure and action-packed scope to match the unbridled brilliance and visual magic of 2LDK. Like a John Woo movie on estrogen, or Heathers with a healthy dose of hand-to-hand combat, Tsutsumi has built a near-perfect combination of philosophy and fisticuffs, a movie that consistently transcends its chop-socky story to say something far more meaningful about the battle of the same sexes.
2LDK is indeed a dazzling movie, a wicked satire about fame and fortune masquerading as perhaps the greatest no-holds-barred, knock-down drag-out, power-tools-and-all catfight in the history of cinema. Though director Tsutsumi would have you believe that this is all just a social commentary about the state of female-to-female relations in Japan—and via extreme extrapolation, the rest of the world—this is a movie that actually avoids such preaching to give us glaring insight into the hidden nature of the feminine beast.
At the core of this film is the struggle between specific gender roles—the concept of the quiet, aloof proper girl vs. the hot-to-trot woman of worldly design—a fight that has become even fuzzier as we've moved into the more sexually explicit and morally miscreant post-millennial world. Each of our characters here is waging war to save her supposed self, to protect the image that she has spent so many years, cosmetics, and diet regimes protecting and propagating. Tsutsumi never lets us forget that each gal is haunted by her past (for Nozomi, it's disgracing the family honor—for Lana, it's something much worse), and uses this element to help justify the over-the-top tirades to follow. In 2LDK, our leads are like simmering cauldrons of disappointment, disrespect, and depression. That it takes something as silly as an argument over who used what beauty product (a telling plot point in and of itself) for these volatile vixens to pop their humanity and go Voorhees on each other says a lot about the unbending universe and cultural structure in which these lonely ladies were raised.
All deeper meanings aside, one of the reasons 2LDK works so well is the precise narrative construction by director Tsutsumi. Beginning with the basics of a roommate relationship—the boredom, the privacy issues, the intermingling of possessions—and then layering, slice by slice, the personal dynamics inherent in each character, this writer-director does a spectacular job of building the tension and suspense. Tsutsumi keeps the logic consistent and the outbursts manageable, twisting the storyline while helping us get a handle on the desperation and rage inside each woman. He then releases their repression in ever more ridiculous fashion. By the time the women are wielding electrical appliances and garden tools as part of their delirious domestic spat, we have been thoroughly prepared for this eventuality and enjoy every craven, criminal minute of it.
But perhaps more important to the film's success are the artistic flourishes, the subtle touches (overhearing the girls' internal thought process, the Asian-Peruvian decor), and outright camera tricks (the lens quivers whenever the girls get angry, as if their emotions are sending out shock waves) Tsutsumi uses to move beyond the action-thriller basics and flesh out his narrative. In turn, we find we care more for these characters than we first realized, and soon turn our attentions to rooting for a victor and hissing an inferred villain. Who assumes what role during the course of 2LDK will be a direct reflection on your attitude toward the individuals showcased, and on Tsutsumi's cleverness with the camera. This is a war in which no one truly wins, and all the strategies are as sad as they are sadistic. The fact that we can enjoy ourselves throughout the course of this seriocomic chaos of deadly intent is a testament to Tsutsumi's skill as a storyteller and a visionary artist.
TLA Releasing is also to be praised for providing this provocative film in a wonderful DVD package. Tsutsumi's control of color is important to understanding the world in which these women live, and the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is flawless in recreating this particular palette. The contrast is super-sharp, and the occasional monochrome moments (the director likes the delicate shifts between similar hues) are delightfully detailed. Aurally, the Dolby Digital Stereo is equally superb. From the voiceover narration that starts the film to the individual moments in which Nozomi or Lana "thinks" out loud, the sonic scenarios are integrated marvelously. This is a film that swings wildly between near silence and outrageous cacophony, and never once does the Japanese soundtrack (with accompanying English subtitles) let us down.
To go along with the technical wizardry, TLA also provides a few wonderful bonus features that offer more insight into the production of this movie and the "duel" that started it all. The 20-minute making-of featurette is actually a Japanese television documentary on the movie's creation. It walks us through the seven-day shoot with a part-information, part-puff piece mentality. Many of the aspects that make Tokyo television so strange (the weird asides and MST3K-style commentary over the proceedings) are present in spades during this informative and insightful look behind the scenes, but at least we learn how several of the effects sequences were shot and how grueling the schedule was on all the participants. More information on how this cinematic battle came about can be found in the collection of press conference footage offered on the disc. For nearly 30 minutes, we hear Tsutsumi, Kitamura, and 2LDK's cast (Asian babes Maho Nonami and Eiko Koike) discuss the beginning, middle, and end of the challenge. It makes for some very entertaining and engaging material, even if some of the translations are far too literal to be anything other than arcane. Along with a nice, teasing trailer, the added elements here make 2LDK an incredibly in-depth DVD presentation.
With a strange title like 2LDK and an even weirder premise, many film fans might expect an over-the-top exploitation romp, especially when the DVD cover gives away the whole mechanized mania of the ladies' deadly battle plans. But don't believe the hyperbole histrionics. 2LDK is a fantastically inventive film about discovering who you really are, warts (wounds) and all. While some will enjoy it merely for its gal-on-gal girlfighting, there will be those who see beyond the same-sex Stratego to appreciate what director Yukihiko Tsutsumi is really getting at. And they will be rewarded with a wildly original, incredibly insightful experience. 2LDK is an exceptional film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• 2LDK Trailer
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