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Apartment 1303
cast: Noriko Nakagoshi, Arata Furata, Eriko Hatsune, Yuka Itaya, and Naoko Otani

director: Ataru Oikawa

96 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Cine Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
The main musical theme to this low budget Japanese horror film is slightly reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's mighty score for Hitchcock's Psycho... unfortunately, the resemblance ends there. In the opening scenes an exploratory camera takes us through an ordinary apartment complex and into room #1303. The camera ghosts through the rooms and out of the window, plummeting to the outside swimming pool far below. Soon after, the current tenant of the apartment (Yuka Otani) falls to her death - yes, you've guessed it - into the pool, possibly killed by an unseen assailant.

Sayako (possibly, Naoko Otani, Mishima) moves in next, and she and her friends are amazed at the low rent. Soon they notice strange smells in one of the rooms, and Sayako feels unaccountably drawn to an empty closet. Samantha the dog becomes increasingly distressed, particularly when her mistress begins to eat dog food straight from the bowl on the floor. It doesn't take long for this tenant's contract to come to an end; she dies in much the same way as the previous occupant.

Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi) decides to investigate the events surrounding her sister's uncharacteristic 'suicide'. The appearance of Sayako at her own wake pushes the issue. From here on in it's a case of ticking the boxes as the by-now familiar staples of J-horror are rushed onscreen - a creepy kid, a white-faced ghost with long black hair and a weird way of moving, some spooky CGI visuals which animate said long black hair.

There are some effective scenes in the film (standing out in particular are: a story about a blind ghost in search of her eyes that in my opinion is good enough to merit its own film, a few tense moments, one or two genuine scares and some atmospheric apparitions), but much of what unfolds is rendered somewhat impotent by way of its familiarity. These stock elements still work if a unique director like Takashi Miike blends them into a wild terror-ride like One Missed Call, but sadly this film lacks both the sheer verve and the off-kilter weirdness of Miike's foray into the genre. Any originality it may possess (and there is some on display) is lost amid the generic icons of modern Japanese horror.

In conclusion, Apartment 1303 isn't that bad, but neither is it all that great. The film falls into a tame middle ground, despite showing some early promise. If you haven't seen a J-horror film and are unfamiliar with the conventions, you'll probably love it. Otherwise, it's a nice little timewaster that at least deserves a viewing, preferably with a few cans of strong lager, and the lights turned out.

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