Duel Project (The): 2LDK/Aragami (2003)
R0 - United Kingdom - Tartan Video UK -The Duel Project
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (4th February 2008).
The Film

The disc:

One isolated setting. Two main characters. Calm before the storm. Bloodshed. Shot roughly in one week. Low budget.

This is the main idea behind “The Duel Project”, where two directors made two different films based on these similar “guidelines”. The idea for this “double feature” was born in the “Köln Film Festival”, Germany, where Japanese directors Yukihiko Tsutsumi (e.g. “Chinese Dinner (2001)”) and Ryuhei Kitamura (e.g. “Godzilla: Final Wars AKA Gojira: Fainaru uôzu (2004)”) met in one of the local bars (based on the extras, they weren´t drinking, despite the fact that some sources has call it a “drunken wagering”). Both directors admired each others work and soon the small talk evolved into something more serious. Both agreed to go ahead with “The Duel Project”.

Kitamura didn´t heard anything from his fellow director for several months and thought that the whole thing was forgotten, until one day Tsutsumi called. He calmly informed that his part of the project was already in production, so Kitamura had to come up with the script in a hurry. Since Tsutsumi already had “reserved” the attractive women, he chose some samurai men instead. “Tartan Video UK” has released “The Duel Project” as it should be; both films at the same time (2-disc set). Now you and your friends can be the judge. Which one is the better one? Let the duel begin.

2LDK (2003):

Lana Tachibana (Maho Nonami) and Nozomi Matsumoto Eiko Koike are roommates in a 2-bedroom condo in Tokyo. They´re struggling actresses in the big city, now competing for the same role where they both recently auditioned. Underneath everything is quite friendly, but inside both of the women dislike each other. For Nozomi, Lana is a spoiled brat, living in other people's money and thinking way too much about herself. Lana´s obsession for expensive clothes and purses also irritates Nozomi. On the other hand Nozomi is a control freak, wanting to set all the rules in the house. She even marks the foods in the fridge, which is totally “anal” for Lana. Nozomi is an intellectual wannabe and eventually just too ordinary, not some trendy city-girl like Lana. At least this is how Lana judges people. In the end, both want that film part, so polite smiles are just that - acting.

First the girls keep their thoughts with themselves (only the audience will hear them), but steadily the pressure and frustration starts to amount in the apartment. Lana keeps pushing Nozomi (often unintentionally, but also with some dirty tricks behind her back), whilst Nozomi continues to blame Lana for almost everything that happens in the house (whether it´s the wrong shampoo that Lana used or the food that she has eaten). There´s also one certain man calling to the house, who seems to have intimate ties with both of the girls. When the “point of no return”-mark is finally reached, the violent confrontation is unavoidable. It involves everything from eggs and old fashion “cat fights” to drowning and a mini-chainsaw. The minor quarrels turn to full-blown insanity, the wicked thoughts into hate and the ketchup into real blood. At the same time some of the old secrets are ripped open. Could this be stopped before it´s too late?

Director/writer Yukihiko Tsutsumi has made a clever, fresh and well-paced movie, which keeps its focus throughout the film. While the last part of the film is pretty wild and crazy to say at least, the certain mystery is maintained for the audience. It´s not always easy to guess what´ll come next or what the real background is of the main characters. Are both just completely insane, or just victims of the circumstances? Is one really “better” than the other? The film was actually filmed in sequence (in order from the start to finish) and due to the tight schedule (and flu, which both of the actresses got during the production) some days lasted into the night. The long hours and exhaustion of the actresses is shown on the screen, bringing some genuine emptiness to their eyes (when they gradually move to the darker territory). Both of the leading ladies were inexperienced at the time of “The Duel Project”, but still quite natural actresses (Eiko Koike is actually a minor “swimsuit/pin-up”-celebrity in Japan, currently co-hosting the “RYU's Talking Live” talk show in “TV Tokyo Network”).

The actual “duel”-sequences can be quite brutal in places, but they´re often also comical. The violence is there, but with humour, even when it´s far from what some people might consider “funny”. Visual images also support the story, since although the film doesn´t really use a “hand held” style or ultra-fast editing pace, there are many close-ups when the characters are (secretly) analyzing each other (sometimes looking straight to camera) and often the compositions are slightly “off” (or at least not conventional). The visual world uses the isolated spaces of the apartment to create tension, but at the same time it also underlines how absurd it is to see two fragile women killing each other in the luxury apartment. The tension is also kept high with the sudden music/sound effects (e.g. the parrot is shrieking, the shower starts spraying water, etc) that suddenly break the silence. There isn´t much conventional music, only in the latter part (some piano tunes) when the film reaches its finale. Director Tsutsumi has created a little story that eventually grows to be something quite unique. It´s not perfect and feels a bit rushed in places, but the audience will most likely eat it up. At least the more “open-minded” ones.

Aragami (2003):

The second film from “The Duel Project” is very different from “2LDK”, since we move from the urban, macabre violence to the more traditional direction. “Aragami” introduces the remote temple deep into the mountains, where the man called Musashi (Masaya Kato - e.g. “The Last Supper AKA Saigo no bansan (2005)”) has lived for years in almost isolation. Only the quiet woman (Kanae Uotani) has kept him company. The peace is broken when two badly wounded and battered samurai warriors knock on the doors. They have managed to escape their enemies and found the shelter, even when the temple is very hard to reach. After two days unconsciousness, the other samurai (Takao Osawa - e.g. “The Battling Angel AKA Tenshi no kiba (2003)”) wakes up and his bad wounds are now healed. At the dinner with the master of the temple, the hungry samurai hears that his partner didn´t make it. This is a real blow, since he was like a brother to the young samurai. After a bit of persuasion from Musashi, the samurai agrees to stay for one more night. After all, Musashi could use the company. The ordinary discussion starts to move into strange territory when Musashi speaks about “destiny” and tells about the legend of “Tengu” - the goblin that haunts in the forest and seizes men to eat. The mood suddenly turns quite restless and it´s about to get hostile, when Musashi reveals that he has killed 794 men. Is Musashi actually something more than he first appeared? Could he be “Tengu”? The night will bring all the answers and it´s going to be a long one.

“Aragami” has a very promising start, which eventually could´ve delivered a unique mix of supernatural-action. The isolated temple, pouring rain outside and two men facing each other sounds intriguing, but sadly the film is not a home run. If “2LDK” was an effectively paced piece, “Aragami” is a disappointment in that department. Granted, the action-scenes are very well choreographed, but it feels that the film never truly gets off the ground. It often can´t decide whether it wants to be a mystery ride or samurai-action, so it tries to be both - usually switching the mood towards the chosen “genre”. This means that when there´s action, it´s “explosive”, but when the film builds the supernatural-side of the story, it slows down almost completely. Just when you get excited, everything stops, and just when you feel that the tension is growing, the dialogue drags on. A few twists in the story don´t have enough elements to really surprise the audience and the chosen modern music wasn´t my cup of tea (almost like it was taken from the ordinary video-game in places).

Director/co-writer Ryuhei Kitamura can still create a good atmosphere and rewarding visual world, so the fans of “sword action” will have at least some worth for their money. The actors are also capable (the obvious wig of actor Masaya Kato wasn´t the perfect choice, though) and some scenes are exciting to see at least, so things could be much worse. For me “Aragami” still was more like a mediocre effort and probably too ambitious project to pull through in the “The Duel Project”- schedule and low budget. In the end, it just doesn´t deliver the goods in a way that at least I was expecting.

Video

2LDK (2003):

The film is presented in Anamorphic (approx.) 1.78:1 and it´s windowboxed. The transfer looks a bit rough, with grain/noise, softness and pale colours. There´s edge enhancement (heavy halos in many scenes) and the transfer leans more to the darker side. Due the low budget nature of the film, the style could very well be intentional, but the film certainly doesn´t look pristine. Apart from a few odd film artifacts, the transfer is clean. By looking at some of the scenes, it could be that the transfer is not a proper “NTSC-to-PAL”-conversion, but at this point I can´t be sure. Film runs 69:51 min (PAL). “Dual layer”-disc is used, which is coded “R0”. There are 16 chapters. Note that the aspect ratio is listed as “2.35:1” on the back cover (this is a mistake).

Aragami (2003):

The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.78.1 and most likely due to the different style used, it looks better than “2LDK”. Sharpness is in a good level (the tighter shots especially) and the black levels are quite strong for the dark film like “Aragami”. The black are leaning more to the grey in places, though - especially compared to the ending scene (which is very vivid and like from the “different world”), but I can´t say that the film ever looks “murky”. The print is also clean, with minor edge enhancement. The film is using English credits.

“Dual layer” disc runs 79:03 min (PAL) and is also coded “R0”. Based on the running time of the R4 Australian-release by “Madman Entertainment” (75:54 min - PAL), the UK-transfer is not a proper “NTSC-to-PAL”-conversion. There are 16 chapters. Note that the aspect ratio is listed as “2.35:1” on the back cover (this is a mistake).

Audio

2LDK (2003):

Three audio tracks are included, all in Japanese; DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (with Surround encoding). Optional English subtitles are also available. DTS-track is decent, but the dialogue comes in every front-channel, which probably isn´t how it fully should be. Fortunately the dialogue doesn´t come from the rears too, since that´s reserved for the ambience and some occasional sound effects. The track is still crisp and clean, so no major complaints.

Aragami (2003):

Three Japanese audio track are included; DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (with Surround encoding). Optional English subtitles are also available. The DTS-track is quite effective, since the continuous thunder and rain outside together with loud music creates the needed mood for the surround channels. Like with “2LDK”, the dialogue comes with all front channels (L-C-R), but the DTS still sounds better with “Aragami” due to the subject matter (more “bigger” action and music). Not bad.

Extras

2LDK (2003):

-“Behind the Scenes” -featurette runs 18:14 minutes, and it´s in Japanese (with optional English subtitles). The first part of the featurette is like a mini-diary of the 8-day shoot, with some quick interviews from the main actresses Nonami and Koike, and director/writer Tsutsumi. We see some behind-the-scenes -footage, where e.g. Nonami is struggling with her lines (take 22 and counting) and where both girls keep on working, despite the flu and fever. The featurette takes also closer look to the last shooting day, which continued all night. The cast & crew are falling asleep one by one, but I guess they managed to finish the film. Since the featurette is done in a certain “humorous” way (very “Japanese”, I might add), it ends with the introduction of the “weapons” used in the film (from “tatami” to “toilet”, so you get the picture).

-“Premiere” -featurette runs 25:01 minutes (again in Japanese, with optional English subtitles). The featurette is basically a collection of different PR-events surrounding the film and its release. It starts off from “Duel production announcement” (from May 28, 2002), where supervising producer Shinya Kawai (another driving force of the project), along with both directors Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura tell about the origins of the project. After that we see “2LDK”-director Tsutsumi, along with its beautiful stars Maho Nonami and Eiko Koike in the various events, talking about the film and the actual shoot (similar subjects are often brought up, since I must´ve heard that “girls got the flu”-story about a million times). The segments include: “Duel production announcement” (May 28, 2002), “Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival” (October 30, 2002), “Screening at Kudan Kaikan” (September 18, 2003) - where the two actresses are alone, “Stars' Greetings at the Premiere” (October 4, 2003) and finally “Video Message for Theatre Audience” (which just goes on and on..).

-“The Duel Project: 2LDK/Aragami” Japanese theatrical trailer (with optional English subtitles) runs 1:46 minutes.

Keep case also includes 8-page booklet, which includes liner notes for both films (“When the actor can´t stop acting - 2LDK in focus” and “Aragami”) by journalist Calum Waddell.

Aragami (2003):

Only the same, Japanese “The Duel Project: 2LDK/Aragami” theatrical trailer (with optional English subtitles - 1:46 minutes) is included, like in the first disc.

The Keep case includes (already mentioned) 8-page booklet, with liner notes for both films (“When the actor can´t stop acting - 2LDK in focus” and “Aragami”) by journalist Calum Waddell.

Overall

So, which one won “The Duel Project”? In my opinion “2LDK”, which is quite an original piece of work and where the violence is more “dark” (still quite humorous) for my taste. “Aragami” wasn´t a bad film by any means, but more like a disappointment for me after the interesting premise. Still, for the many action-fans it just might be the preferable option of the two.

Very wisely, “Tartan Video” has included both films in the same release and while they don´t always look fully pristine (these are low budget filmmaking, after all), they´re enjoyable. DTS-tracks are also decent, but not perfect. Some extras for “2LDK” are included, but a bit surprisingly not much for “Aragami” is found (based on specs of the other releases, plenty of “PR-extras” were created for both films).

For more info, please visit the homepage of Tartan Video (UK).

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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