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Doppelganger (Kurosawa Kiyoshi 2003)



Genre: Quasi-supernatural Psychological Suspense

review in one breath

In Doppelganger director Kurosawa Kiyoshi continues his fascination with the notion of human individuality. The exploration of this theme can be found in most of his major films (including Cure (1997), Kourei (2000), Charisma (2000), and Akarui Mirai (2003)) and generally involves the evolution of the main characters' moral standing in the face of strange and difficult experiences. In Doppelganger, Kurosawa's exploration takes an entirely new approach and involves the impact upon individuality when the main character confronts potential madness and the sudden appearance of an evil twin ("doppelganger").

Although the appearance of a "doppelganger" generally implies the presence of ghosts or the supernatural, Kurosawa's tale focuses solely on the psychological impact of encountering one's own double. As defined in traditional German folklore, a doppelganger is a ghostly double which haunts the suddenly bewildered victim. In Kurosawa's Doppelganger, this amounts to the appearance of one's alter ego who proceeds to walk in your footsteps while doing everything you wish you could were it not for social and moral constraints. This notion of observing and reacting to the (wild) actions of one's alter ego is the focused exploration of Doppelganger.

The film assumes the reality of doppelgangers from the offset, so much so that it appears to occur rather frequently and lies well within characters' ability to grasp and accept as a part of their universe. Thus from the very opening moments of the film, we are introduced to the reality of doppelgangers and the ways which they are dealt with. The fact that they suddenly appear out of nowhere and assume an alter-ego version of an individual's identity is presented simply as matter of fact. No supernatural explanations are offered, no horror on the face of the girlfriend or acquaintances of the now doubled person, simply the quandry over how this situation can be handled before the (original) life of the person is ruined through the actions of the alter-ego. In presenting his theme this way, Kurosawa intentionally and completely demystifies the idea of a ghostly double and forces to audience to focus on the psychological dynamic between the two egos.

The film's main character is Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho), a brilliant yet stressed-out researcher intent on developing a chair with robotic capabilities. With ever-impending deadlines from his sponsors and continued failed testing, even the original Hayasaki is near unbearable to his research assistants. Amidst outbursts of anger and despair due to the slow pace at which the project is moving along, a clear decline in his physical and mental health is apparent. Very soon thereafter, Hayasaki comes face to face with himself in what he first considers a terrifying moment of mental collapse. But the vision persists and he must soon come to terms with the fact that he now has a new roomate which looks, sounds and dresses just like him. The two are not identical however. The doppelganger seems much more relaxed and confident. He speaks forcefully and often scolds Hayasaki for not taking matters into his own hands. The doppelganger is also a lot sloppier and throroughly enjoys his sake (and wine and beer).

The doppelganger is also much less restrained by convention and morality than Hayasaki, and quickly proceeds to act out whatever he desires. This results in the prompt firing of Hayasaki, who ironically seems relieved. It also results in extensive vandalism, theft, and a few deaths. Although Hayasaki is eventually acclamated to the presence of his double, and they soon are holding prolonged discussions regarding their perspectives, it is never clear just how evil the doppelganger is. The sense is similar to a lion befriending a lamb. One is never quite sure of the motive of the lion, whose nature it is to simply eat lambs. This increase in both co-dependency and mistrust, alongside the increasingly brazen attitude of the doppelganger leads the film toward its conclusion. That conclusion, however, serves only as the basis for a further transformation which manifests Kurosawa's thematic goal.

Doppelganger has the same feel, pace and level of suspense as Kurosawa's earlier Cure and Charisma. The film does not move from one shocking discovery to another, but rather proceeds from one decision (and its outcome) to the next decision. As mentioned earlier, it is not the reality of doppelgangers which Kurosawa is interested in, but the dynamic of one's interaction with an alter-ego. Thus choice, conversation and consequence are the main plot elements. Cinematically, Kurosawa frequently employs a triple-split screen in scenes where Hayasaki and the doppelganger exchange dialogue in order to heighten the disjunction and possible schizophrenia of the situation.

Doppelganger remains true to Kurosawa's characteristic form. If you enjoyed his earlier, purely psychological films, you will likely enjoy this one as well. Lacking here, however, are the contemporary relevance and crisp cinematography of Kurosawa's Akarui Mirai or the ghostly moments of Kourei. (Audiences of Kourei might recall in that film Koji Yakusho (playing Sato) encountered his first doppelganger which he promptly and effectively dealt with. Could that 30-second scene and its implicit possibilities be the origin of this full exploration?)

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Another introspective foray into the fluidity of individuality led by none other than our favorite cinematic psycho-analyst, Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Blunt trauma to the head is spreading at epidemic proportions. One alter-ego romp on the pretty girl. Things I have learned from my alter-ego:
(a) The method of "kiss first, think later" works amazingly well on every female on the planet;
(b) all interpersonal conflict can easily be resolved by a quick hammer blow to the head;
(c) you can quickly have alot of money, a nice car, and plenty of girls if you simply have huge cajones.

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