Doppelganger

Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
2003
As far as I’m concerned the triumvirate of brilliance from Kiyoshi Kurosawa–Cure, Charisma, and Kairo–established him as one of Japan’s major directors,
and friends know how much I love those films. I missed Bright Future, although I shall see it soon, but it seems that after Kairo, and the end of the world in it, Kurosawa has given up on horror. Or at least, he feels trapped by the genre. Doppelganger is his attempt to break free from that genre, and it’s no coincidence that the story is about a brilliant inventor trying to break free from his more devious and amoral twin. But just as the twin doesn’t conform to the stereotypes of the doppelganger (he’s not pure evil), the film breaks away from its original horror underpinnings and becomes…well, I’m not sure. Its later desolate tone reminds me of the unmoored reality of Charisma (as does the humor), but whereas Charisma reminds me of Kobo Abe’s novels, Doppelganger feels half baked. It has no propulsion to it–it coalesces and dissipates over and over.
Kurosawa regular Yakusho Koji plays Hayasaki, the inventor of a wheelchair for paraplegics that uses robotic arms and some sort of mind control (it’s never made clear, and like a lot in the film, has no bearing on the plot). He’s later joined by Kimishima (Yusuke Santamaria), an assistant hired by the doppelganger, and Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku), whose own brother similarly was supplanted by a doppelganger, back when the movie was a horror film. These two co-workers are doubles as well, for they have taken the place of Hayasaki’s original team that we have seen earlier. The last third details a journey across the country to Niigata (on Japan’s west coast) to deliver the finished chair, which begins to feel like a double as well, a metal man with flailing arms. We also begin to wonder, especially with Kurosawa’s elliptical style, whether anybody in the film is their “original” self, a “double,” or a “remerged version,” giving all the final scenes an alienating air.
I’m hoping that the film is a transitional piece, and not a slow, weird, and not too enjoyable falling apart of a focused talent.

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