Kenji Katagiri

We want to hear your thoughts!

MOVIE REVIEW: Room Laundering (2018)

MOVIE REVIEW: Room Laundering (2018)

Room Laundering (2018) / Fair use doctrine.If you were told you were about to watch a film that is one-part Beetlejuice and one-part The Frighteners but produced by a Japanese filmmaker, would it leave you wondering how something like that could possibly work and what kind of hot mess you’d be left with unspooling before your very cynical eyeballs? The answer, in this case, is co-writer/director Kenji Katagiri’s Room Laundering, a quirky, geeky, unexpectedly charming ‘dramedy’ about grief, loss, coming of age, and finally coming into your own against all of the obstacles that life happens to throw your way…oh, and yeah, it has a few ghosts in it.

Co-written with Tatsuya Umemoto, Room Laundering is the usual story about a very unusual twenty-year-old girl named Mitsuko, “Miko” for short (the winsome Elaiza Ikeda, who could be the Japanese version of Winona Ryder’s Lydia Deetz.) Seemingly dogged by bad luck, after her father died and her mother disappeared when she was a kid, she grew up with her grandmother, who also promptly kicked the bucket when Miko was eighteen. Being the only family she has left, her uncle, Goro (Joe Odagiri) takes her in, and also puts her to work for him in a rather…strange enterprise.

You see, there’s a regulation that says if any untimely deaths take place inside a residence, any potential tenants who intend to move in must be informed of the event. Nobody said WHEN they have to be told, so in order to avoid the money-losing possibility of having people not move into your place at all, you talk to Goro, who then has Miko move in, live there for a time and then leave, giving the place a new lease on life as a rental (no pun intended.) The process is nicknamed “room laundering,” similar to money laundering, but it’s dealing with properties instead.

Oh, and one other wrinkle, by the way – the tenants can’t see or communicate with the restless spirits of the late tenants in these places…but Miko can. (A silly duck lamp, a gift from Miko’s childhood, serves as the indicator of when spirits are present.) Which has resulted in her having very little communication or relationships with living people – not that she minds all that much. The life of being a nomadic medium of sorts seems to suit her, thank you very much.

Things seem to change radically for Miko, however, with the latest two “hauntings” she’s had to deal with. The first is the spirit of a goofy dead punk-rocker named Kimihiko (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who slit his wrists in the bathtub of one of the places that Miko is ‘laundering’ (and his injuries make for a gross if hysterically funny Tim Burtonesque sight gag).

The second and more serious case is the next apartment, which finds Miko dealing with something she hasn’t before: a murder victim. The ghost in question here is that of Yuki Chikamoto (Kaoru Mitsumune), an office worker who threw herself into cosplay and social media in her off-hours. It’s her gruesome murder (shown mostly offscreen) that opens the movie and her style of haunting that’s closest to what we’ve come to expect in J-horror films like The Grudge and The Ring. But even that is handled with a lighter-than-expected touch by Katagiri.

Miko’s encounters with the murdered ghost of Yuki also brings Yuki’s next-door neighbor Akito (Kentaro) into her orbit. Guilt-ridden by his lack of concern for his former neighbor, grocery store manager Akito has no plans to make the same mistake twice, and in spite of his awkwardness around her, remains determined to get to know Miko a bit better, even though she herself is sworn not to break the number one commandment of her ‘job’, which is “no fraternization with the neighbors.”

To say that Akito changes everything for Miko is a complete understatement. As he begins to gradually break down her barriers, she starts to emerge from the shell of her ‘weird’ existence, discovering that dealing with the living really isn’t as bad as all that…until, of course, the subplot kicks in, where she finally decides to go above and beyond the call of her usual duties to help out both Kimihiko and Yuki, which brings the movie to a tense-yet-funny, and finally satisfying conclusion.

Neither quite as ‘out-there’ as Beetlejuice nor as intense as Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, Room Laundering takes a more sentimental approach to the like-minded material. Katagiri’s empathy for his characters really shows here, revealing a bit at a time, the layered personalities of each one. Even the supposedly nihilistic Kimihiko and the allegedly self-absorbed Yuki are shown to be a lot more sympathetic than one would think from first impressions.

Especially funny and touching are the interactions that Miko has with the ghost of a dead former classmate and friend, who has the sensibilities of a horny twenty-something man, trapped forever in the form of the grade-schooler he was when he was hit by a car and killed.

The most surprising aspect of the film is how it expresses a belief in the humanity of the living, and yes, even the dead, just when you think that the world is little more than a revolving, never-ending ball of ‘suck.’

The performances are engaging, and the story, though familiar, does a good job of keeping you guessing about characters’ intentions and just exactly how and where Yuki will end up. Katagiri’s direction is sure-footed, as he manages to walk that thin line between pathos and having things become way too maudlin to enjoy.

Room Laundering gets a very solid three-and-a-half out of five stars from me, with a strong recommendation to those who usually avoid J-horror as being too “gross” or “creepy”.


Posted by Samuel Glass in COMING SOON, FAMILY HORROR, HORROR COMEDIES, MOVIE REVIEWS, PARANORMAL, 0 comments