Apartment 1303 Review
It’s rumoured that Ataru Oikawa’s Apartment 1303 is the latest J-Horror flick to be de-subtitled, deculturated, and, arguably, diluted, via the American Film Industry Remake Super-machine. It’s easy to see why; the movie is an efficient little shocker containing all of the staple ingredients required to serve up a template Far Eastern Horror dish.
Simply grab a gaggle of attractive youngsters, toss in a storyline about a victim of abuse who, upon passing this mortal coil, has become incarcerated in tortured limbo as a vengeful spirit, mix in a strong female lead, crank up the temperature using the increasingly frequent impromptu appearances of said vengeful spirit – replete with copious, thick, and unruly raven locks, and bake for no more than 96 minutes to ensure the dish isn’t over-cooked.
Whilst I apologise unreservedly for the lame analogy, I’m hoping that you see my point. The J-Horror subgenre has often constrained itself within its highly successful and stylised blueprint, and Apartment 1303 is another example of a biscuit cutter horror tale from Japan. Indeed, early in proceedings, as young revellers excitedly move into the fated 13th floor flat in a luxury residential tower block, they dutifully play by the J-Horror rules, recounting eerie ghost stories, and explaining away telling signs of trouble, such as the ridiculously cheap rent on the trendy residence.
That said, for all that it’s lacking in genre-busting verve, this Kei “Ju-On” Oishi-penned yarn is an enjoyable and unsettling, if not entirely challenging experience, littered with jumpy moments and cranking up an uncomfortably claustrophobic atmosphere. The first couple of shock sequences are executed with enough style to successfully commence the assault on your nerves, and, as Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi) comes to terms, in her own dignified and reserved fashion, with the apparent suicide of her younger sister Sayaka, we are introduced to the characterisation of a typically strong female lead; one of the best of the afore-mentioned pervasive ingredients of J-Horror.
Nakagoshi turns in an excellent performance as Mariko’s journey transports her from her initially composed and seemingly emotionally bereft state, through to the open grieving she submits to in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the confined apartment. As her grief rises to the surface alongside her growing awareness of the resident ghostly menace, there is another, more intriguing parallel at play. Mariko peels away the layers of the mystery to discover the devastating consequences of matriarchal failure, and, much to her misery, identifies the very same conflicting dynamics at play in her own relationship. What greater horror than to have your legitimacy as a daughter negated by the one whom you’ve loved dutifully and unconditionally?
Whilst the theme isn’t explored to great depth, but rather used as a vehicle for introducing flashback sequences, it still presents an interesting angle that is befitting of an outwardly strong character like Mariko. It’s perhaps the main item that separates the movie from its contemporaries, but isn’t enough to ensure that this title is a standout entry in the subgenre. Genre fans who are addicted to the powerful atmospheric terror and nerve-shredding pacing of Japanese horror won’t be disappointed with the manner in which this chiller is executed, and newcomers to the scene would be well advised to sample the shocks inside Apartment 1303 to lend them a taste of what the genre has to offer. Those who are jaded by the stylised and sometimes formulaic nature of many Japanese horror titles will need to look further afield to sate their appetite for something new.
Encoded for Region 2, this disc from Cine Asia is presented in anamorphic format. With accomplished and impressive cinematography from Tokusho Kikumura (who was also responsible for the cinematography resulting in the tense atmosphere of Ju-on: The Grudge), it’s no mistake that the visuals here are a huge element of the film’s overall quality. The transfer doesn’t always seem to pay full justice to this however; whilst the images appear free of flecks and noise, it does appear a little undernourished with muted colours. Blacks, in particular, which play a crucial part in the movie, don’t seem to be presented in as strong a shade as they could be.
From the slightly bizarre Re-animator-esque opening theme, through to all of the audio moments that provide the atmosphere and the jumps, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is clean and clear. There is some interesting use of sound placement to ensure you feel on edge as the noises attack you from different angles.
English subtitles are available. Whilst they are presented in clear white, and the translation seems decent, I did notice at least one repeated spelling mistake, with “cancelled” spelt with only a single “l”.
There isn’t much in the way of extras, unfortunately. You’ve got a theatrical trailer, a UK trailer, and that’s about it.
Observed in isolation, Apartment 1303 is an edgy, atmospheric, and genuinely unsettling horror film that introduces a heart-wrenching theme of matriarchal failure, before building to an effective and shuddering climax. Unfortunately, the film’s ancestors suck much of the wind out of its sails by preceding its techniques and atmospheric charms. The lack of decent extras and the average reproduction means that this package delivers just enough to enjoy, but not nearly enough to treasure.