2LDK (2003)

2LDK first published by EyeforFilm

Their publicists and agents might want you to believe that aspiring starlets are just glamorous gigglers with pretty faces, perfect bodies and enviable lifestyles, but Japanese cinema has recently sliced through all the smiling beauty to expose the tormented souls within. In Takashi Miike‘s astonishing Audition (1999), a would-be actress’s veneer of polite deference, so attractive to her older male suitor, may just conceal far darker, more violent tendencies; and now in Yukihiko Tsutsumi‘s 2LDK, two women vying for the same part in a movie let down their masks over one long night together to reveal insecurity, loneliness, desperation – and a murderous hatred for each other.

Its portrayal of a gradual escalation from verbal bitching to more literal bitchslapping to a lethally bitchy free-for-all may strike some as heavily gendered and plainly misogynistic, but 2LDK is not just about actresses, or indeed just about women, and the behaviours exhibited by its two female leads, though hyperbolised, will seem all too painfully recognisable across genders. In fact, 2LDK seems more about the minor hypocrisies and duplicities (call it self-restraint) of which we are all guilty in our daily dealings with each other, and the horrors that can result when we drop our act and start saying (not to mention doing) exactly what is on our mind.

Two women are sharing their agent’s luxury Tokyo apartment (hence the title 2LDK – Japanese realtor’s shorthand for two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen). Nozomi (Eiko Koike) is young, sexually inexperienced, intellectual, unsophisticated. Lana (Maho Nonami) is older, promiscuous, superficial, urbanised. Both are up for the same leading rôle, both have an interest in the same man, and as the evening goes by and tensions mount, their innermost feelings about themselves and each other, at first revealed only in catty voice-over, will soon erupt into aggressive verbal exchanges, before finding their ultimate expression in actual violence (perpetrated with a variety of ordinary domestic objects).

From their minor irritations over hairs left in the bath and spilt perfume, to their major breakdowns over past guilt and broken dreams, Nozomi and Lana are set for a vicious and darkly funny showdown where their worst enemies will be their own increasing sense of anxiety and vulnerability, in a world that is not nearly so harsh and hostile as they imagine.

Alongside Ryuhei Kitamura’s Aragami, 2LDK forms half of the so-called Duel Project, a double feature of films constrained and unified by a Dogme-like set of arbitrary restrictions: a battle to the death at each film’s core, no more than two principal characters, a single set, and a one-week shoot. After the dry run of his earlier Chinese Dinner (2001) which followed a similar set of rules, Tsutsumi has now become adept at pushing a limited cast and location to their absolute extremes. It could be argued that 2LDK‘s 67-minute duration makes it more an extended short than a true feature – but it also ensures that the film races along, covering a range of moods (comedy, horror, action, tragedy) with economic fluidity. His two rival wannabes may learn just how hard it can be to survive in the movie business, but Tsutsumi himself makes filmmaking look easy.

strap: Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s Duel Project entry sees two actresses play out their anxieties and jealousies over a long, escalating night of violence

© Anton Bitel