|Cast:||Miki Nakatani, Etsushi Toyokawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yumi Adachi|
In a sense, a horror audience is easy to fool because they define the genre film by the nemesis. It’s a ghost, zombie, werewolf, slasher, whatever film. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s daring Loft tricks the viewer into believing it’s a mummy film, only to seemingly abandon this idea halfway through and turn into a murder mystery romance. The actual subject is real vs. imagined, and it’s present from the outset, though it doesn’t register the programmed response a mummy does. That being said, Loft is one of those films that makes sense as soon as you stop fighting it, allowing the film to not make sense. This isn’t to say that it’s some illogical, convoluted mess, but that the film only reveals itself, that is as far as it’s willing to, in retrospect.
Reiko Hatuna (Miki Nakatani) is a respected prize winning author of intelligent novels who is asked to quickly churn out a commercial romance, which, according to her shady editor Koichi Kijima (Hidetoshi Nishijima), won’t damage her sterling reputation. Typical of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the main character has no reason for being at the outset of the film. She’s not into writing sleazy mush, so her mind quickly wanders, leaving her sidetracked far more often than on track. She doesn’t have a purpose in every scene the way a star in a Hollyplastic movie does, she’s alive and allowed just to be rather than forced to take the next step in the latest connect the dots rehash. As Kurosawa’s films progress, his blank slate takes a shape that isn’t meant to be unique to them but rather comment upon the effect they have on society, and vice versa.
As Reiko isn’t being as productive as Kijima would like at her home, she asks him to set her up somewhere else. He suggests a country house he knows, which we soon discover happens to be next to a creepy, locked up, seemingly vacant building inquiry shows to be owned by Sagami University. University archeologist Makoto Yoshioka (Etsushi Toyokawa) brings what appears to spying Reiko to be a corpse, but upon further investigation turns out to be a mummy the archeologists discovered in nearby Midori Swamp. Makoto is also having trouble with work, trying to keep the mummy from being displayed for reasons clear only to him, though the fact they are unable to verify whether it’s the same mummy the university discovered in the swamp 80 years ago has at least something to do with it. While there’s no logical reason to put the mummy back where they found it, it’s peculiar that the mummy and the paperwork are missing. Seemingly the only remaining record of the find is a bizarre time lapse silent film we briefly stare at, looking to detect something that may or may not be there as in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up. Also mysteriously missing is the last author Kijima sent to the house, who appears to Reiko in hallucinations if not actuality, making it possible that either man killed her though we’d prefer to believe it was creepy Kijima.
Loft is the story of delusion, making fact and fiction impossible to discern. Both Reiko and Makoto have a questionable grasp upon reality, as the former is prone to figments of her imagination while the later has nightmares that seem very real to him (and more so to us). Kurosawa’s best known films Cure and Pulse deal with the isolation of modern Tokyo, but perhaps a bigger theme is everyone other than yourself is ultimately the other, and thus incomprehensible. Reiko & Makoto don’t particularly have anything beyond what’s brother them to rural Ibaragi in common, and don’t talk much, but almost as soon as he decides to trust her with an afternoon of mummy sitting to keep some grad students he’s stuck putting to work from seeing it, they fall in love. About this time, Reiko is curious as to whether the mummy committed suicide or was just particularly vain. The reason the bodies of these ancient women have held up for a thousand years is eating mud was a primitive method of preserving your youthful beauty, but the most superficial keeled over, as eating too much proved fatal. Makoto decides to cut the mummy’s stomach open to check, but after he’s plunged the knife in she suggests he doesn’t make an incision, as it may provoke the mummy.
Fueled by the possibility of mysticism, Makoto, who was certainly troubled but up seemed a rational human being, becomes as troubled by his mind as Reiko, sending the film into a fantastical second half. The main point of the first half is to set up the instability of their fragile minds, but after an hour of easing us in, Kurosawa lets loose, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish reality. Though scenes in the second half add information, they also often reverse their predecessor.
The environment plays on the characters, and the minimalist filmmaking enhances their solitude and detachment. Kurosawa allows his characters to scare themselves. His films always utilize the surroundings to creepy effect, and part of what’s disturbing is we are used to them exerting themselves in some kind of aggressive human fashion that’s of course impossible in real life. Instead, they are just there, an ominous presence that, aside from the occasional strong wind, is entirely still. Kurosawa doesn’t really use a soundtrack for this natural gothic horror. While Reiko & Makoto believe they can get over their difficulties together, and she supports him even if he killed the missing author, their lack of conversation is much more noticeable due to their time together consisting of inactivity and near dead silence when the crickets aren’t chirping.
Makoto may be the murderer because if we’ve learned anything from Cure we know that in Kurosawa people don’t kill for a particularly strong or precise reason. Riddled by detachment and indifference from the inability to connect, they are taken over by a malaise. They are still mostly normal, whatever that is, but there are moments when something seems to possess them, to cloud their judgement and render them unable to act in a rational controlled manner.
Loft is filmed similar to a surveillance video. The camera rarely moves and is usually positioned so it looks down or up at the humans. If there’s any action, it’s the human’s moving around within the confines of the frame. Kurosawa shoots with 2 cameras that are adjacent to each other, but one is slightly farther back. Though only a minor alteration, the subtlety of the small shifts create a certain tension. It’s almost as if there’s a frame inside a frame except it doesn’t call attention to itself the way anything with a border does.
Kurosawa is one of those directors who seems to evoke one of two reactions. Either he bores you to death or produces a feeling of transfixion that grows increasingly eerie, macabre, and unsettling as the film progresses. Though Kurosawa is an unhurried filmmaker who doesn’t go for action or shock tactics, Loft actually seems fast because you are always trying to catch up to the elusive points and truths.