“Doppelganger” is an odd little Japanese film with a German name being released in America by a British company (Tartan Asia Extreme) whose founder has an Irish name (Hamish McAlpine. “Doppelganer” is just one of many non-terror-with-rain-and-creepy-kids films produced in Japan every year, and Asia Extreme hopes to allow American’s to see past the “Ju-on”s and “Ringu”s. “Doppelganger” is a fun, cagey little movie that invokes a sense of bizarre dread, and, while not a horror-movie proper, caries enough violence and gore to get the fans through the night.
“Doppelganger” is hard to pin down in narrative form, as a linear explanation of the plot sounds a touch ludicrous, and the climax includes a disco-ball homage to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but the premise is easily digestible. Koji Yakusho plays Michio Hayasaki, a scientist working on a chair that will allow amputees to utilize computerized arms and movement with their minds. The chair is so advanced it can perfectly crack an egg or light a cigarette (complete with a cool flick of the Zippo), but he is still unhappy it cannot accommodate the complete complex range of human emotions.
One day, seemingly out of the blue, Hayasaki’s exact physical double (right down to the outfit) appears. In the great tradition of doubles, the doppelganger is Hayasaki’s id, kissing girls and tellin’-it-like-it-is to. Oh, and killing Hayasaki’s boss with a hammer, in a scene made brutal by the subtlety of sound (the dull thud you’d hear in real life, not the gushy whack-crack nonsense in most films). After being fired from his cushy job, the scientist and his counter-part swipe the chair, and set up shop in the garage. Soon they hire on an odd assistant, as well as a too-young love interest whose own brother doppelgangerized himself earlier in the movie.
The subtext is so painfully obvious that director Kurosawa Kiyoshi puts it into the mouths of his characters. The doppelganger talks of how they are two parts of the same whole, and that Hayasaki must come to terms with his wilder, angrier self before they can re-form. While none of this is new, Kurosawa uses retro camera fun (splitting the screen three-ways, black bars, that sort of thing) and a stark realism when it comes to the rough stuff (seriously, I think they actually killed a guy with a wrench to create the effect. There are no laws in Japan, who knows?).
The film takes some interesting turns in its last third, and I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to Asian sensibility or some sort of lunatic story telling, but the simplicity of the camera and, more likely than not, the economy of Japanese cinema, keeps the tale engrossing and surreal.
The acting is fine, especially Koji, who is the sort of actor who is so grounded and comfortable to watch that the viewer will follow him anywhere. Sort of like a Bruce Willis, someone who seems likeable even when playing an unpleasant, gruff character. Think Takeshi Kitano in “Battle Royale,” if you’ve been lucky enough to get your hands on a copy. (Tartan, any chance of getting the US distribution rights?) The other acting is passable for the story, though the female lead admits on one of the DVD special features, that, in her first role, she attempted to play her role “straightforward,” just as it was in the script. Which brings me to *
The DVD itself has a passable transfer and Dolby Digital surround sound. Some trailers for Tartan Asia Extreme new releases, as well TV spots and the Doppelganger trailer are fine, if expected, features. The “making of” featurette is interesting in that it has the look and feel of any number of American promotional featurettes, yet is very mannered and paced. The infamous (and possibly distorted) Japanese politeness filters through each actor and comment. It’s funny to see clips of an actor being decimated by a wrench, and then to see that same actor speaking kindly and quietly on the film-making experience. There is a director’s interview in lieu of commentary, which can get messy on foreign releases, usually with the director speaking in his/her native tongue, with a translator talking over. All in all, good package.