Having a roommate can be hard. Whether it’s disrespect of the kitchen cleaning rules or failing to remember how thin the average bedroom wall is, living with another person is often a frustrating and filthy experience. Yuhiko Tsutsumi’s outrageous black horror comedy 2LDK (2003) follows two aspiring actresses: the demure, virginal Nozomi and party girl Lana, who find out for themselves exactly just how unlivable claustrophobic living spaces can be.
The phrase ‘2LDK’ is one commonly used in Japan to refer to an apartment that has 2 bedrooms, and one area that encompasses the living room, dining room and kitchen respectively. Apartments in Tokyo can be notoriously small, and so making effective use of the small space is fundamental. For Nozomi and Lana, that means following the previously agreed on rules: not eating each other’s food, not using each other’s things and keeping the noise to a minimum. But, as with most precarious living situations, those rules are soon broken, leading to a bloody escalation into repressed guilt, shattered dreams and a fight to the death for the role of a lifetime.
Tension is initially ramped up slowly and subtly, as the duo wait for a call from the producer announcing which of them has been cast in the lead in a new, presumably successful, Yakuza movie. Tone deaf singing, stray hairs and obsessive labelling of food start to wear on the nerves. Lana slurps her cup noodles and Nozomi’s soup collects around her lips. It’s a misophonic nightmare as the sound design isolates and amplifies those infamously unbearable sticky mouth sounds and serving only to enhance the uniquely irritating experience of people eating. As the two become more and more disillusioned with one another, their inner monologues gives us insight into little irritations that gradually grow and grow. Externally, the conversation is polite, if a little tense. Internally, each woman’s thoughts are peppered with shouts of ‘moron’, ‘idiot’ and various other expletives. For Nozomi, acting is an exercise in nobility, one that should be revered and taken seriously – and so Lana’s girlish, flirty attitude towards showbiz feels like a personal attack on her values. Lana’s padded bras and designer Miu Miu shoes are all fuel to the fire of Nozomi’s annoyance. Conversely, Lana finds Nozomi an uptight bore, whose anal-retentive attitude and love of theatre are directly at odds with the more carefree, glamorous and fun-loving lifestyle she craves. More subtly, the pair can be viewed as a metaphor for modern Japan, a country that often finds itself torn between retaining traditions of the past while also trying to expand in a more Westernized global context.
The inception story of 2LDK is as darkly comical as the film itself, born from a challenge put to Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Alive) from film producer Shin’ya Kawai, producer of some of Japan’s most iconic cult films including Ringu and Love Exposure. Kawai’s rules for the pair included a short run-time, a single set, a week’s production and two characters. Kitamura was tasked with casting two male characters. For Tsutsumi, he was to cast two women – and it’s these women that make 2LDK such a neat and nasty piece of Japanese cinema.
Dual roles can, by their very nature, be tricky. Mismatched energy between performers or a lack of chemistry can quickly become less ‘ambitious character study’ and more ‘overhearing a very dull conversation between two strangers on the bus’. Luckily, Eiko Koike (Nozomi) and Maho Nonami (Lana) are an electrifying pair – each of them delivering equally magnetic and believable performances, bouncing effortlessly off of each other’s quirks and presenting an authentic escalation from minor bitchiness to full-blown violence. For some, the presentation of two women making digs at the other’s weight, dress sense and sex life may carry an air of misogyny, especially when it’s revealed that the pair have both been romantically involved with Takuya – an offscreen male coworker. However, even though the Bechdel test is failed, it’s clear that 2LDK presents a sorry testament to the ways that women in the entertainment industry (or really, ANY industry) are pitted against one another in a constant bitter state of rivalry exacerbated by patriarchal expectations of what roles they ‘should’ fulfil as women.
2LDK dedicates around half of its miniscule one hour runtime to exploring what makes these women tick, before the latter half has them explode in violent pandemonium. Finally pushed to their limits and tired of fighting their own inner demons, Nozomi and Lana take it out on the one person who stands in their way of future happiness – each other. The pair get creative with their weaponry at first, using tatami mats and ketchup to wreak their own form of domestic terrorism, before graduating to chainsaws, katanas, electrocution and drowning. As the women slice and dice each other under the ever watchful eye of Lulu the parrot, a Shakespearean irony awaits them. As we emerge bleary-eyed from suffocating lockdowns, having spent almost two years inside our own apartments, the relatable lunacy and hilarity of 2LDK resonates now more than ever.