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The friendship between two damaged young women takes a turn for the murderous in Japanese suspenser “Roommate”, written and directed by Furuzawa Takeshi, who previously dabbled in horror with the likes of “Ghost Train” and “Another”. Adapted from a popular 1997 novel by Imamura Aya, the film was a high profile release thanks to the presence of two of the country’s current favourite actresses, Keiko Kitagawa, (recently in “Judge!”, and who went Hollywood with “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift”) and Kyoko Fukada (“Kamikaze Girls” and “Yatterman”).
The film opens with Keiko Kitagawa as Harumi, a young woman working as a temp, who gets hit by a car and wakes up in hospital, where she’s taken care of by a kind nurse called Reiko (Kyoko Fukada). The two become friends, and decide to move in together once Harumi is discharged, which works out pretty well until Reiko starts talking to herself and acting strangely, displaying some worryingly violent tendencies. After Harumi starts getting involved with Kensuke Kudo (Kora Kengo “A Tale of Samurai Cooking – A True Love Story”), the man who accidentally ran her over, the relationship between the girls grows tense, and when she runs into a woman called Mari, who happens to be the spitting image of Reiko, things spiral out of control and the bodies start to pile up.
Equal parts “Single White Female” and hysterical psychodrama, “Roommate” is a pretty straightforward piece of genre cinema that draws from a long list of other films, throwing in the usual manner of character reversals and audience manipulation in its quest for tension and terror. There’s nothing new here nor anything terribly surprisingly (most semi-savvy viewers will have guessed the big last act twist from early on), and Furuzawa Takeshi is certainly more Brian de Palma than Hitchcock. This isn’t really a bad thing for those in the right frame of mind, and there’s always something to be said for a bit of ripe, schlocky nonsense.
Although a bit on the long side at nearly two hours, the film does deliver in the entertainment stakes, and the clichés are rolled out with enthusiasm and energy, with the expected scenes of madness, animal cruelty and violence against nosy members of the supporting cast all being present and correct. Experienced in horror filmmaking, Furuzawa has the sense to never let things get dull or to give the viewer too much time to ponder on the general lack of logic, and while unambitious the film is generally effective and moves at a brisk pace, enlivened by a few welcome splashes of gore and amusingly gratuitous split screen work and mirroring – cheap symbolism to be sure, but inoffensive fun.
To be fair to Furuzawa, the film does try to delve into its characters and to add a little substance and tragedy, and though this like the plot itself is mainly made up of misdirection and soap opera pop psycho-psychology, it does help to keep the viewer interested, if not exactly emotionally attached. Childhood trauma and abuse plays a large roll when the flashbacks are dutifully laid on during the final act, along with vague hints of lesbianism, though Furuzawa thankfully never lets the film get too exploitative even during its over the top climax. Keiko Kitagawa and Kyoko Fukada both do very well in this respect, and manage to give both of the girls at least a degree of believability and sympathy, as well as attaining the all-important chemistry and off-kilter bond needed to pull of this kind of blurred identity ambiguity. Kyoko Fukada obviously has the more over the top role, Reiko alternating between kind, seductive and homicidal, often at the drop of a hat, and is good value for money throughout, with several standout scenes of oddness and lunacy as things escalate.
All-in, “Roommates” is a perfectly acceptable, if scarcely original piece of genre cinema, which fans of psycho dramas and ‘guess the twist’ type shockers should enjoy. Furuzawa Takeshi is a decent enough director, and with the talented eye-candy leads holding things together, it’s a lively and occasionally thrilling watch despite a slightly depressing air of familiarity.
Takeshi Furusawa (director) / Aya Imamura (based on the novel by), Takeshi Furusawa (screenplay)
CAST: Keiko Kitagawa … Harumi Hagiwara
Kyôko Fukada … Reiko Nishimura / Mary
Kengo Kôra … Keisuke
Mariko Tsutsui … Harumi’s mother