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In Doppelgänger, a tense supernatural thriller, meek scientist Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) comes face to face with his own doppelgänger. He is initially able to ignore him, but the look-a-like becomes more and more insistent, until Hayasaki has no choice but to confront him. Despite being physically identical, they are frighteningly opposite in nature where Hayasaki is quiet and reserved, the new arrival is confident, aggressive and unbound by social conventions. The two learn to co-exist until Hayasakis life suddenly leaps into a downward spiral. Starring Koji Yakusho (The Eel, Shall We Dance), Doppelgänger explores the duality of nature and the conflict that arises when we cannot come to terms with both sides of our personalities.
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What's amazing about these Asian directors like Kurosawa is that they're more versed in american cinema than the idiots directing for the big american studios these days. If you look at the way the story unfolds, and the movement of the camera, and music choice, not to mention the awesome split screen (which I thought was really advantageous to this movie) you can tell that Kurosawa has to have seen some classic DePalma movies like "Blowout" and "Body Double" (Blowout, 1980 -- Tarantino loved it...and was the reason he used Travolta in Pulp Fiction). It's also feels like there's a shadow of Cronenberg as well, and those robots look like "Johnny 5" from Short Circuit.
What you have to understand is that this film is looking at the idea of the doppleganger as a metaphor. A lot of people have trouble understanding the fact that these types of movies are psychological and often contain the unexplainable. Like in fight club with Brad Pitt's character, the doppleganger is not really real. He exercises control over Hayasaki because Hayasaki lacks the will to believe in himself and his science.
The movie really dissects the idea of what it means that we have a 'will' in the first place. That's what's going on in the 2nd scene where they're trying to adjust the controls. The intern kid is a weak person, without a strong will and he cannot control the robot device. The movie is ultimately about control. And Hayasaki's lack of control is what creates the doppleganger in the first place. The ending isn't really that ambiguous, either. I don't know why anyone would think it's ambiguous. I won't spoil it, though.
Anyway, here's the point. If you like psychological thrillers, you're a fan of cult psychological thrillers and science films, and you want to see a movie that is totally engaging, has some cool robot scenes and a solid plot, Doppleganger is a great film.
Doppelganger opens like so many classic thrillers; with violins a-screeching and horns a-screaming. This self-described "most frightening film yet" plays like a intellectual thriller, not the hellish nightmare spelled out by the movie's main tagline.
The movie jumps back and forth between to story-lines, happening concurrently. Firstly, we see Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku ) leaving a home improvements store. She sees her brother, Takashi, wondering in the store parking lot. Yuka offers him a ride back to their house with her, but Takashi sullen and hunched over, continues to walk away with only a short glance back. When Yuka gets home, a phone call informs her that Takashi is at the area hospital, deceased. This news shocks and surprises Yuka, because Takashi is writing on his computer, in his room.
Cut to Hayasaki (K?ji Yakusho; Cure). He's a company idea-man who, with his two assistants Takano and Aoki, is working to perfect his newest project; an "artificial body" that has promise to help the paralyzed. After a successful test of the chair in front of the company's board, Hayasaki is pressured by the department head to either finalize the project or take a management position and let someone else finish his work. He refuses. The company is putting heavy pressure on him and his small staff. Frustrated, Hayasaki heads home to find...Hayasaki sitting in his chair! The film continues to give us alternating tastes of Hayasaki's and Yuka's stories until they soon find themselves sitting across from each other at a diner. They both have similar problems.
Now don't be alarmed, I haven't said anything that spoils the film, on the contrary, the film is so crazy and (seemingly) jumbled, especially the final third, that there's plenty left to enjoy. There's never any doubt from the very beginning that the doppelganger is real. Kurasawa tells us as much by naming the movie as he does. What should be taken into account though, is that Doppelganger isn't quite horror. It may be a touch psychological, with a pinch of suspense; but if it's one thing, it's heavy on the humor. And satire. Kurasawa deftly employs the split-screen to give us simultaneous views of not only Koji Yakusho's fantastic dual portrayal, as he and himself jockey around his apartment, but also for some cat & mouse action later on in the film.
Doppelganger is fantastic. That's where some seem to part ways with me. Kurosawa isn't known to just slap together a film or not to have a purpose for what he's shooting. After a couple of viewings, I finally saw the brilliance of this movie. It lies not only with the superficial notion of one having a doppelganger, and how a person's duality comes into being under certain circumstances and what might spark such the event, albeit a questionable one. There's some dialogue in the film to support this. I don't know if others are overlooking it. What's even more fascinating, is that the movie itself acts as a character. The first half is tense, ambitious, and wrought with friction. It's dark. And we see that in the characters themselves. The latter half is quite different. One might say, "the opposite" of the first. Irreverent, lively and snappy. It's filed with light and life; and dare I say meaning? It supports the first have quite nicely. Which makes for a hell of a film.
The film is a much deeper film than most give it credit for and is wildly original, much in the way a certain Katsuhito Ishii film is. I laughed out loud at the crazy times. And I gasped at every swing of an object bound for someone's cranium. A bold piece of work. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, with the help of the ever-present Koji Yakusho, has done it again.
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