Japan has a strong, well-deserved reputation for crafting horror films dealing with ghosts. From Kwaidan (1965) to the J-horror heyday of Ringu (1998) and Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) to more recent fare such as Stare (2019), restless spirits have been a part of chilling cinematic features galore. The latest entry into the subgenre is writer/director Yôsuke Gotô’s Bldg. N (2023), based on supposed actual events that took place at a Gifu Prefecture apartment building in 2000.
Bldg. N follows a recent cinematic trend of teens or twentysomethings exploring allegedly haunted locations, usually to drive social media or gain other types of fame. Here, Gotô thankfully spares viewers the influencer route as three university student friends — Shiori (Minori Hagiwara), who suffers from the phobia of losing one’s existence; her ex-boyfriend Keita (Yuki Kura), who wants to make a horror movie; and his current girlfriend Maho (Kasumi Yamaya) — set out for location scouting at an apartment building reputed to be haunted.
The titular apartments are anything but vacated, as it turns out, and the residents of the dilapidated rooms are an odd bunch, indeed. They invite the curious trio of friends to dine and join in festivities with them, and things seem even stranger to Shiori. Seemingly supernatural occurrences begin to take place, along with some sudden, shocking deaths, but Shiori holds steadfastly to her disbelief in ghosts — until it seems that she no longer can.
Hagiwara is outstanding as the skeptic of the bunch, going through a wide range of emotions — from being an aloof student who claims not to be bothered by death to a young woman terrified for her life — and she heads up a sizable supporting cast giving believable, mannered performances, including Mariko Tsutsui as an apartment resident and Tarô Suwa as the apartment building’s kind caretaker.
Bldg. N follows tropes of fear-fare offerings that deal in urban legends but Gotô serves up a story with enough original angles to forgive common elements that are to be expected. He builds the mystery and suspense quite nicely, with some surprising reveals. The film also deals in another popular subgenre of late, but I don’t want to give anything more away than that. Bldg. N receives a solid recommendation for aficionados of Asian horror and fright-fare fans of the supernatural.(3 / 5)
BLDG. N screens as part of Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, which takes place in Bucheon, South Korea from June 29–July 9, 2023. For more information, visit http://www.bifan.kr/eng/.