With a child on the way, a young couple in Hikari and Taro struggle to make the money in order to support the child and the lifestyle they desire. The conflict begins to tear apart the relationship. Furthermore, Taro’s eccentric and rich “Aunt” Kyoko makes an appearance in the couple’s life and scolds young Taro for leaving her and using her for her riches, as well as approaches Hikari and offers her a place to stay at her home.
Hikari is soon drawn into Kyoko’s world, a house filled with various misfits who cater to her wishes in return for money. It is among this group that Hikari begins to develop a deeper understanding of what she wants from life and the divide between her and Taro begins to deepen. When Taro comes to reclaim his girlfriend, he finds she has run off with one of the misfits who lived there. Taro and Kyoko and the rest of the misfits begin a desperate search for their lost lovers.
“Garden Apartment” sets an atmospheric tone early in the production with a colorful style and steadied pace. This is exemplified through the film score with the cast appearing to soak in the atmosphere of its electronic sounds. These moments where the score takes center stage transform parts of the movie into short music videos. As someone who enjoys the medium, these scenes act as strong connecting points to the film’s visual style. With these choices the film does move at a slower pace, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I can see it being a major deterrent to some viewers who don’t enjoy movies that put style over substance. The score, the use of colours, sets and camera work makes “Garden Apartment” a strong and pronounced visual statement by director Umi Ishihara.
Ishihara also does a good job of creating interesting characters, with everyone being defined and easy to relate to, or appreciate. Given the short run-time of the film and the amount focused on visual representation, the script does struggle to a strong emotional impact. While the central characters are charismatic, it is hard to feel the emotional connection in their most desperate moments, given how little time is spent with them. The backstories also seem rather rushed in the beginning of the film in order to meet the end objective. Asking the viewers to draw an emotional connection with an underdeveloped narrative feels like it hinders the production from becoming more than style in abundance.
The performances in the film are serviceable to the content, with the exception of Kaori Takeshita who stands out as Kyoko, the eccentric “house mother” of the group of misfits. Her emotional range and ability to embody instability brings the attention to her character in any scene she is in. The performance is almost transcendent of the film limited script, and the end, when the character is overflowing with emotion and a self awareness, does serve as a high point within the narrative that otherwise is lacking in depth.
As a visual piece, “Garden Apartment” is slick, with plenty of style that will appeal to a large fan base who enjoy movies with a clear and defined visual representation. On the other side, the narrative does suffer from style over substance. Although the characters themselves are interesting, and well acted, it is unfortunate when their profound, life-changing moments come with a disconnect or indifference. The film’s pace may act as a deterrent, and although the soundtrack is well suited for this particular production, if the style of music does not appeal to the viewer it may also hinder enjoyment. With my viewing of “Garden Apartment” I found myself really wrapped up in the atmosphere, which far exceeds any gripes I had with the film’s limited narrative. Umi Ishihara makes a strong film debut, which I would implore anyone to check out given the chance. I personally will be following her career as I see it developing into something rather fresh and original.