Thursday, March 26, 2009

2 by Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Sweet Home (1989) and The Loft (2005)

One weekend, almost ten years ago, I saw three Asian films, all of which I hold in the highest regard today: Hideo Nakata's Chaos, Kim Ki-duk's The Isle, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (Pulse).

Kairo, released in Japan in 2001, is one of my all-time favorite Japanese films. It is also the film that introduced me to its gifted director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It would be released in the U.S. nearly five years later, long after the death of J-Horror to lukewarm and unfavorable critical reviews. The truly awful American remake is better known. Those same critics, however, are chomping at the bits for his forthcoming Tokyo Sonata, which I anticipate will make many a top-ten list and garner quite a bit of praise for its director.

Over a decade before Kairo and twenty years before Tokyo Sonata, Kurosawa made Sweet Home. A Poltergeist riff about a television crew which encounters paranormal events in an old mansion. The film shows a heavy hand from its more-famous producer (who also gives a performance alongside his wife) and is highlighted by the special effects from a master at the top of his game. All the scenes with Nobuko Miyamoto are particularly endearing, and she really shines. While the film as a whole is hampered by a tired story, Kurosawa really creates some beautiful atmosphere and imagery. It's a film worth seeking out.

The Loft was seen as a setback for Kurosawa. After having made the experimental and interesting Bright Future and Doppelganger, this film was seen as an unwelcome retread of J-Horror. Quite wrong. It's a beautiful green film about neighbors. Miki Nakatani is a writer who lives in the Japanese countryside next to a university building, where Etsushi Toyokawa is investigating a mummified corpse found in a local lake. No plot synopsis can give the depth of this film justice. A wonderful complex relationship develops between the two, amongst the backdrop of a lush green countryside, dark shadowy supernatural (?) goings-on, and a tight little mystery in the middle. This one is ripe for a revisit. Highly recommended.

While neither film captures the quiet cool of Kairo, I believe each is worth seeing. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a true artist and an amazing filmmaker.

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