Studio: Tartan Asia Extreme
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Writer: Ataru Oikawa, Takamasa Sata, Kei Oishi
Producer: Chiaka Harada
Stars: Noriko Nakagoshi, Arata Furuta, Eriko Hatsune, Yuka Itaya, Naoko Otani, Aki Fukada, Toshinobu Matsuo
After her sister jumps from the balcony of apartment 1303, a young woman investigates a bizarre string of deaths related to a mother and daughter murder-suicide.
Murder and suicide have a tendency to inspire horror movie hauntings. Put the two together and place the setting on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building and you are just asking for onryō-related trouble. Onryō is the Japanese term for a vengeful ghost, a piece of mythology that usually drives the most popular J-horror films. That setup is no different here. Ever since these tragic deaths, no single woman has been able to live in apartment 1303 without throwing herself over the balcony railing. The police are mostly content to write off each death as a coincidental suicide. And the landlord is all too happy to rent out the space again. Until a woman named Mariko decides to investigate her sister’s perilous plunge and discovers the dark history related to the apartment.
Try not to look too closely at the apartment building used in the movie, by the way. You might be able to count that it actually has only twelve floors instead of thirteen. The elevator also has buttons enough for only twelve floors, as well. For whatever reason, probably set dressing, the building is apparently missing a fifth floor.
Based on the book by Kei Oishi, who also wrote the novel that inspired “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “Apartment 1303” borrows more than a few of the same elements found in “The Grudge.” As in that story, a violent tragedy ends up creating a haunted house and the new tenants become more links in a chain of similar deaths. Combining a bit of “The Ring” as well, the race is now on to find a way to put the ghost to rest and to end the macabre cycle once and for all.
While it is hardly original, criticism of “Apartment 1303” for plagiarizing these other stories can only be taken so far. The story is rooted much deeper in traditional Japanese folklore and these are merely the same themes that fuel all such ghostly tales. That explanation will not do much to appease those who find themselves bored by déjà vu with the recognizable concepts, however. There may be a limited number of black-haired ghosts in flowing white gowns that one can look upon before it ceases to spark a fright, after all.
Still, the creepy moments in “Apartment 1303” have a genuine eeriness to them despite the familiar J-horror tropes. “Apartment 1303” ties in a story tinged with guilt, grief, and broken family ties to lace the horror with relatable emotions. Without that context, the film would have felt more like a tired rehash. But good performances such as Noriko Nakagoshi’s as Mariko give the film a human investment that elevates the onscreen tragedy above mere visual shock.
Which is fortunate because those visuals are definitely on the lacking end. Ghosts disappear with the most generic dissolve that a film could possibly use. And the green screen effects simulating thirteen story falls induce winces from the poor quality, not from the bloody impact. Luckily, the film pulls itself back up from its drop with a suspenseful climax that leaves unanswered questions, but delivers chilling moments.
“Apartment 1303” has all of the requisite hallmarks generally associated with Japanese horror films: restless ghosts, a pattern of strange deaths, creepy children, and faces obscured by long dark hair. That formula is familiar enough that it makes it a simple matter to summarize this review with a straightforward if-then statement.
If “The Ring,” “The Grudge,” “Shutter,” “Pulse,” “One Missed Call,” and the like have given you your fill of revenge-fueled Asian poltergeists, “Apartment 1303” will not do anything to reignite an interest in the sub-genre. On the other hand, if you are relatively unfamiliar with Japanese horror or are still entranced by this style of ghost story, “Apartment 1303” should live up to expectations.
NOTE: The Japanese title is “1303-gôshitsu.”
Review Score: 65