FANTASTIC FEST 2023: DOOR is a Gory Lost J-Horror Hidden Gem Well Worth Discovering

The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

Door is one of those weird repertoire screenings you only find at Fantastic Fest, presented here in a new digital restoration. The grisly 1988 potboiler, which spawned a franchise in Japan is the story of a beautiful young housewife always clad in the most impressive of shoulder pads Yasuko (Keiko Takahashi), whose serene life of cleaning her high rise apartment and taking care of her young son is besieged by telemarketers and salesmen. There’s a real paranoia at the heart of Door as characters prominently state several times how creepy it is the amount of information these organizations have their intended customers. The film then takes that fact and asks the terrifying question of its audience, what if one of those telemarketers or salesmen who had access to that information became a stalker. What could have been at most an exploitative little thriller thanks to its director Banmei Takahashi, who had churned out more than a few roman porno and pink films, instead elevates the story with some rather bold stylistic choices that dig into the psyche of Yasuko. 

The film begins acclimating the audience to Yasuko’s blissful homemaker existence doing laundry, cleaning and preparing meals for her successful, yet absent husband who works late frequently. When we begin the film she is very vigilant about locking her doors with both the normal lock and door chain, obviously she’s seen a film or two herself. One particularly stressful day when she’s gotten more than a few interruptions thanks to marketers and she forgets to lock the door properly, and a young salesman comes to the door selling english lessons hilarious enough. He’s very instant and wants to leave a packet for Yasuko and when he opens the door casually to pass a packet through, uninvited, because only the chain was she slams the door shut on the man’s hand injuring him. What follows is an extremely awkward dance as the two people both rather freaked out and traumatized, try to handle this situation in the most polite way possible. 

Yasuko never really says sorry proper, and the salesman begins stalking her anonymously, thanks to his salesman intel, he’s making obscene phone calls and leaving tissues full of bodily fluids in her mailbox. I should probably mention here that Keiko Takahashi and director Banmei Takahashi are husband and wife, because while this is a very common setup, it doesn’t quite go as expected and I think that might have been the reason. After a very tense hour of cat and mouse where we see poor Yasuko begin to unravel, as none of the men around her take her seriously. When the salesman finally breaks into her home and they of course make it to the bedroom, Yasuko is saved at the last minute when her son comes home from a play date. The tension is ruther ratcheted up when the salesman pretends to be a guest for dinner, so as to not upset her rambunctious son and still hopefully get some time alone with his target. 

The last 20 minutes is when Door truly shines and has Yasuko finally reaching her breaking point. She fights back with every fiber of her being and it’s completely glorious to behold as she not only takes out her attacker, but in the process destroys her gilded cage of a high rise apartment, covering it with blood and debris. Keiko Takahashi is a ticking timebomb and instead of being regulated to being raped, as some kind of weird moral lesson about not saying sorry, the film chooses empowerment for its female protagonist as she uses chainsaws and baseball bats to paint her apartment with the blood of her attacker. The other thing this film does that really sets it apart is how it plays with sound in ways that took me a moment to really appreciate. The most interesting use is, when Yasuko is being stalked when she speaks with men their voices sound the same as if they were coming through the intercom on her door. Another creepy touch is whenever the salesman is around, his footsteps always echo the sounds of walking down her corridor, to further drill that paranoia from Yasuko’s character into the audience. 

Door is a tense little potboiler whose batshit last 20 minutes is well worth the wait. Keiko Takahashi really digs into the role in a way that really draws you into her madness, as Banmei Takahashi amplifies that with the clever sound design and some very interesting camera placements. To be honest I’ve seen more than my fair share of 80s Japanese horror and Door is the rare example of a film that doesn’t lean into the mean-spirited nihilism that you tend to get with the films of this era and instead leaves room for hope. I mean this was at the same time the Guinea Pig series was currently being produced and gobbled up by the Japanese video market. So that being the current norm, Door stands alone as one of the more forward thinking entries I’ve seen in 80’s J-Horror.

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