As a landlord, there are many rules and regulations that need to be adhered to. As indicated by a suitably seedy Tomorowo Taguchi in “Room Laundering’s” carnivalesque opening scene, Japanese law requires that landlords reveal that if a previous tenant died in a property, any prospective renters must be informed as such. But, with the help of a troubled young woman, uncaring landlords can find a way round this.
Miko (Elaiza Ikeda) saw her father die at a young age and then her mother disappear soon after. Raised by her grandmother, it wasn’t long before her only living relative was her uncle Goro (Joe Odagiri), a low-level dealer in all things of the illegal variety. With no home, Goro sends Miko to live in any apartment of the recently deceased, making the current tenant alive and well, so Goro’s clients – the landlords – no longer have to reveal the reason for the properties’ availability. Goro gets paid; Goro pays Miko; the landlords find tenants; the tenants find a home. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.
There’s just one problem: Miko can see dead people…with the assistance of her duck lamp, of course. Wherever Goro sends her, Miko, therefore, has a new “flatmate” with which to discuss the meaning of life, death and everything. We first meet punk rocker Kimihiko (the ever-smiling Kiyohiko Shibukawa) whose lack of confidence saw him slit his wrists in the bath, before ever sending his demo tape to a record label. Miko is then moved on to the recently murdered cosplay blogger Yuki (Kaoru Mitsumune), vengeful at having been stabbed in the back in her own home.
Her own life moving in no particular direction beyond idle doodling, Miko is harassed by the spirits of the dead to deal with unfinished business. Kimihiko urges Miko to send his demo to record labels – something he was too fearful to do himself; Yuki wants her murderer found and brought to justice. For a twenty year-old who has been avoiding entering the real world, Miko is forced into action.
Kenji Katagiri’s feature debut starts with the feel of American influence. The start feels like something straight out of the Wes Anderson book of directing and Miko’s demeanour and visions of the dead recall Winona Ryder in “Beetlejuice”. Though as the film progresses, Japanese movie staples are apparent throughout, and it’s fair to say that “Room Laundering” has something of Satoshi Miki about it.
The uncovering of Yuki’s murderer is a realistic scenario, but the handling makes it feel unnatural. The revelation comes somewhat quickly, acted and scripted in a way that simply doesn’t seem believable. The capturing of the killer brings out the old “if we all work together, we can solve our problems” so common in lighthearted Japanese comedies. Miko’s neighbour Akito (Kentaro Ito) also comes straight out of the over-acted, bumbling sap masterclass in his obvious attraction to Miko.
But a comedy at heart, the film is light despite its dark subject matter. Shibukawa is as breezy as ever in a role seemingly written for him as Kimihiko – though death seems to have made him a little less suicidal; and Miko’s interactions with the ghost of a young boy who she confides in also bring humour, particularly in his attempts to see her naked. But Joe Odagiri’s Goro is a strange character to figure out: somewhat apathetic, he is a wheeler-dealer, but also a man supposedly or moral virtue, trying to do right by his niece, though breaking all kinds of laws along the way.
The films also comes with a number points which feel like natural endings, only for another “end” scene to appear straight after. That said, there is enough emotion allowed to seep into the film’s eventual conclusion to give it a satisfying end; Miko finally able to overcome the darkness kept hidden within.
An interesting scenario guaranteed to bring some laughs with it along the way, “Room Laundering” has enough character to see the humour move the film along, but with just enough of a dark side to keep it from turning into an out-and-out romp. Kenji Katagiri shows he has potential to establish a career in feature films with his debut, though there is definitely room for improvement.