A terrifying tale of a young family who move into an apartment building next to a graveyard and the horrors that are unleashed upon them.Oh my gosh I was so disappointed in this one, you guys. I thought for sure this would be a home run, I mean Japanese horror, HOW CAN YOU GO WRONG. It has to be creepy, right?
One of the most popular writers working in Japan today, Mariko Koike is a recognized master of detective fiction and horror writing. Known in particular for her hybrid works that blend these styles with elements of romance, The Graveyard Apartment is arguably Koike’s masterpiece. Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the suspenseful tale of a young family that believes it has found the perfect home to grow in to, only to realize that the apartment’s idyllic setting harbors the specter of evil and that longer they stay, the more trapped they become.
This tale of a young married couple who are harboring a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building begin to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.
Nope. Turns out it can just be stilted and kind of boring.
Conceptually it’s fine: a family moves into an apartment building erected right next to a graveyard and starts experiencing weird shit. The execution is where it’s lacking. I don’t know if it’s a style thing or a translation thing or just a bad combination of the two, but the narration in this book is winding and super redundant. Characters return to the same thoughts, opinions, feelings, and ideas over and over and over again, as though they’re afraid that we won’t understand or remember them they only state them once.
Specific phrases and words are also re-used pretty frequently, some oddly elaborate and circuitous enough that they stick out more than they normally would. I’m assuming that the words are maybe more common in Japan and/or have a very specific, wordy translation, but the cumulative effect of this, the concept repetition, and the stilted dialogue, is that The Graveyard Apartment can be a real fucking chore to get through.
It’d even out maybe if the story were a little more interesting, but there’s just not a whole to propel the narrative. Spooks are mild and sparse, and there’s little effort made to explain anything. The Graveyard Apartment contains some interesting elements – the dark history of Misao and Teppei’s seemingly idyllic relationship, the mysteriously halted construction of an underground shopping mall, the slow desertion of the apartment complex and isolation of the family, and a pretty mindfucky scene in the basement towards the end – but none of it ever builds to anything concrete. Threads are brought up but never tied together, and the last act plays out without any real explanation or motivation beyond “ghostly evil”.
Also, I’m sorry, but an evil house just straight-up vaporizing outsiders before they can provide or call for help is totally cheating. That’s cheap, evil apartment building.
It’s absolutely possible that there’s some vital cultural context that I’m missing that makes Graveyard Apartment super creepy and relevant – presumably there’s a reason that it’s a classic – but as someone just looking for some spooks, this book didn’t do it for me. There were some creepy ideas and sequences involved, but the writing was too clunky to enjoy, and the payoff too lackluster to make it worth it. It’s a bummer, but I’d have to say pass.
TWO AND A HALF STARS