My notes on Rûmu Rondaringu (Room Laundering), which played at the Fantasia Film Festival.
The high concept here is a theoretical loophole in the Japanese law that insists landlords disclose to prospective tenants whether deaths have taken place in a potentially haunted property – which inspires hustler/fixer/dodgy dealer Goro Ikazuki (Joe Odagiri) to place his glum, solitary niece Miko (Elaiza Ikeda) in short-term lets that launder rooms the way crooks launder money. The tenants who come after Miko don’t have to be told about the punk rocker who cut his wrist in the bathroom or the cosplay office drone whose murder is still unsolved. However, Miko – whose only connection seems to be a to a duck-shaped lamp left to her by her long-vanished mother – has the psychic ability to see ghosts, and can’t help but get involved with Kimhiko (Kyuhiko Shibuka), who died before sending his demo tape to a record company, and Yuuke (Kaoru Mitsumune), who doesn’t know who stuck in the knife that’s still protruding from her lower back. If there’s a movie mash-up going on in writer-director Kenji Katagiri’s film it’s Amelie Meets The Sixth Sense, and Ikeda’s dolorous, artistically-talented, emotionally-deadended heroine is an interesting mix of helpful pixie and haunted Miss Fixit (a bit with a lost toy car seems to be an especial Amelie nod).
At heart, it’s about how the heroine moves on from her own trauma – with the help of her surprisingly decent uncle, whom we see cheerfully persecuting an old lady whose home is in the way of a big property development – and stops hiding behind her hair (which makes her look a lot like the J-horror girl spooks all the rage around the turn of the century) in empty rooms where terrible things happened. The ghosts’ stories include a decent micro-whodunit and a bit of soft soap, and both reflect Miko’s own woes as a kind of living ghost-for-hire … and there’s a nice elaboration of the Sixth Sense premise whereby ghosts who are seen only by the gifted protagonist can also see each other, and the main decedents in the film form an unlikely but sweet relationship. Katagiri takes his visual palette from Miko’s colourful, childish, striking artwork and carries this over into an emotional tone – even the guy who committed suicide is bright and peppy on the outside, all the way to his dyed red hair, but with underlying despair and melancholy that gives a tart edge to a potentially sugary confection.