Japanese cinema took flight right after the turn of the millennium. There was an international hunger for Japanese genre/cult films and many directors made good use of that opportunity. Yukihiko Tsutsumi's 2LDK was one of the somewhat inconspicuous projects that suddenly found itself in the spotlights and went on to conquer the world. I remembered it as a fun, quirky and pleasantly mean-spirited film, but it's been a long, long time since I last watched it, and I wasn't quite sure whether it would still hold up after all these years. Turns out it is still every bit as fun.
Tsutsumi's 2LDK is a stand-alone film, but it's also part of a slightly bigger project. I say project, but it's really nothing more than a wager between Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura. After a night of healthy drinking, the two wondered who could make the best film. The rules were simple: they'd both use a limited cast, the film would have to be shot in a single location, and they'd each be given a week to complete their film. The result was the Duel Project, where Tsutsumi's 2LDK took on Kitamura's Aragami. I never found out which film won in the end, but both are very nice films, with my personal vote going to 2LDK.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That's the basic, but highly amusing setup of 2LDK. You take two women who live in the same (small) apartment, you give them overlapping goals, and you wait until things get completely out of hand. It's certainly not the most progressive idea, but Tsutsumi doesn't seem to care and exploits the premise to its fullest, serving some very amusing dark comedy in the process. 2LDK is one of those films that gets progressively crazier, starting with a couple of underhanded, snide remarks, yet ending in total and unabashed chaos.
Nozomi and Lana are two actresses who share an apartment. Nozomi has just arrived from the countryside and hopes to make it big, Lana is already a film industry veteran. The two just finished their finale auditions for the lead female role in a Yakuza flick, and the part is going to go to one of them. While they pretend to be supportive of each other, they're both desperate to get the part. The tension inside the apartment rises when Nozomi finds out Lana has been taking some of her food, but it isn't until she accidentally knocks over Lana's expensive perfume hat things get really hairy.
2LDK was shot in less than a week, so don't expect the world from the cinematography. That said, Tsutsumi makes excellent use of the small location, even adding a cute little backstory to the origin of the apartment just so he can smuggle in a mini-rainforest. It helps with the visual diversity. The camera work is solid, lighting and use of color are decent. Thanks to the agile and dynamic camera work, the place looks a lot bigger than it actually is. It's certainly not the most beautiful film, but considering the limited scope of the project, Tsutsumi did an admirable job.
The soundtrack is a rather basic affair, but again, it would be crazy to expect 2LDK to have a fully tailored score ready in such a limited time span. Instead, Tsutsumi makes good use of a selection of existing songs to add a little extra flavor to his film. There's a metal track halfway through that gets a pretty prominent role and a piano piece that neatly fits into the latter half. The rest of the score sounds way more generic, but is still pretty effective. It ramps up the tension and adds to the overall insanity, which was probably all you could realistically ask for.
The cast is small, with just two actors making physical appearances (the other two are voices on the other end of a phone). Maho Nonami and Eiko Koike had their work cut out for them, but they both managed to shine. In Koike's case that's not such a big surprise, she's a notable actress with an impressive resume. Nonami's oeuvre is also quite extensive, just a bit more geared at TV work. The two actresses play very well off each other, both in the more subdued first half and the more manic second half, adding a crucial ingredient to the dark comedy that drives 2LDK.
2LDK is a rather basic film. It has a very obvious premise and a clean structure, about five minutes in it's already clear how the rest of it is going to pan out. There are no big twists or surprises, what you see is what you get. That means that a lot of weight rests on execution and timing, and that's where Tsutsumi aces his film. The tension between the two women is tangible from the start, even though it's still very subdued and strategic. Every extra layer Tsutsumi adds on top just makes things more amusing, with a superb finale to finish things off.
This film, being made in just a week, is obviously a little rough around the edges. At the same time, there's also a level of vitality and energy that is often lacking from films that are more meticulously planned. Tsutsumi made some smart decisions, keeping the cinematography and soundtrack more functional, while focusing on elements that were able to stand out more easily. With two spirited actresses, a fun and progressively more over-the-top script, nifty dark comedy and a very economic runtime, 2LDK is a film that made me grin from start to finish. Ironically, I feel it's still the best thing Tsutsumi made to date, so maybe he should have another go at it with Kitamura.