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The Duel Project: Aragami + 2LDK
casts: Takao Osawa, Masaya Kato, Kanae Uotani, Maho Nonami, and Eiko Koike

directors: Ryuhei Kitamura, Yukihiko Tsutsumi

76 / 67 minutes (18) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
This great idea for a couple of low-budget movies from producer Shinya Kawai, is perfectly suited to Japanese cinema in that each feature dramatises a fight to the death. Each film has one set, two characters, and at least one person from each duel must die.

From director Ryuhei Kitamura, the maker of cult yakuza zombie horror Versus, Aragami sees a wounded samurai (Takao Osawa) saved from death by temple recluse Aragami, alias Tengu, alias Miyamoto Musashi (played superbly by Masaya Kato). There's plenty of that grunting machismo found in Japanese martial arts pictures, whether gunplay or swordplay, and when the principle characters square off during a long night of boozing, philosophical talk, and the inevitable telling of a ghost story (well, actually, it's a local myth about some peculiarly Asian fighting troll), the action eventually heats up from half-hearted clashes and half-joking threats to lethal stabbings and a life or death struggle. How can a human warrior defeat a demon? See this often-electrifying film, especially for the stunning revelations of its weirdly cosmic finale.

Yukihiko Tsutsumi's 2LDK (meaning 'two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchen' ... but also 'two living to duel and kill') concerns Tokyo flatmates Lana (Maho Nonami) and Nozomi (Eiko Koike), both actresses up for the same role. The girls form a reluctant and brittle friendship when they settle into the apartment, but following their conversations spiked with insinuations and veiled jibes, the pair soon resort to home-wrecking antics, driven to violence by mutual distrust, career ambitions, and the revelation that they have both been sleeping with the same man (a movie producer, of course). Amazingly, although the film is obviously shot in a somewhat cramped environment, there's really very little sense of claustrophobia here. This is partly because the filmmaker wisely focuses on the close-ups of the girls' expressive faces rather than their surroundings. Sitcom banter is quickly dispensed with, and the prolonged catfight soon begins in earnest with everyday domestic objects turned into weapons, some with deadly consequences.

Promoted as the Asian equivalent of Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse double-bill, this is certainly more than just a novelty package, and delivers plenty of entertainment value as, despite the potential for extreme horror, much of the 'violence' is played for laughs, and quite daringly so, at times. DVD extras: include trailers, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and some interesting - if staged and repetitive - interview video from a Tokyo film festival and press conference launches, featuring the starlets and director of 2LDK.
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