After a low key career spent largely in the direct to video genre, Kiyoshi Kurosawa slowly began to emerge as film maker to watch thanks to his existentialist horrors Charisma, Cure, and Kairo. After a two year absence, Kurosawa's next two films would be his most high profile works, the Cannes debuting drama Bright Future and the genre confounding (sci fi?, comedy?, horror?) Doppleganger (2003).
Michio Hayasaki (Kurosawa's regular go-to lead Koji Yakusho) is a frustrated, temperamental medical device inventor/designer currently at work on a robotic chair to aide victims of paralysis. He begins to feel like he is being followed and catches glimpses of someone who looks like his double being the tagalong culprit. Wether it is a case of dementia brought on by stress or reality is soon answered when his double, his doppleganger, invades his life.
The Hayasaki double is much more lighthearted, rebellious, and has an omniscient sense of what the regular Hayasaki feels. The double says, "I turned up here because I felt sorry for you." The Hayasaki double's attempts to help include trashing the research station which gets Hayasaki fired, though this turns out to be a relief. His double them instigates stealing the chair and making forceful passes at the women Hayaskai is too uptight to flirt with. Though Hayasaki benefits from the criminal solution to working on his project, what do you do when your double won't go away and which one of the two is the one more deserving to live?
Doppleganger's opening scenes have the somber horror tone that Kurosawa is best known for, but once Hayasaki meets his doppleganger it becomes clear that Kurosawa isn't making another oblique, dread filled horror flick. To the surprise, and perhaps even disappointment, of his fans, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Doppleganger is more a strange work of black comedy.
Now, despite avoiding reviews for films I'm interested in, for whatever reason be it director, cast, or concept, it is still sometimes hard not hear the buzz. Doppleganger is one such film. Liking Kurosawa's films, I knew I was going to seek it out, thus I avoided reviews, but still the buzz and blurbs for Dopplegnager got to me, and it wasn't very good. The genre shift and Doppleganger's cloudy intentions seemed to irk a lot of people. Initially, in its script phase, the film was meant to be a straight horror film, which Kurosawa plays with in the opening scenes. But the director, having grown tired of horror, decided to add some levity to the film and change the mood entirely. So, Hayasaki's doppleganger has an offbeat jovial mood and many scenes, even ones of horrific acts, have elements of slapstick.
One of the things that marks Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films is their often disjointed sense of narrative and open to interpretation meanings. That is still very much the case with Doppleganger, which oddly makes it a film where a director both stays true to his previous works and also rebels against them. Can you blame him for wanting to try something new? Sure, there is something to be said that if a director is adept at a style, he probably shouldn't veer far away from it. One can cite many examples of other horror-ish directors trying out other genres with bad results, like Wes Craven and Music from the Heart or Sam Raimi and For Love of the Game. Doppleganger, at least, feels like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, and his tight purposeful framing and overall dark minimalist flair is still very present. Plus, his Eyes of the Spider did very much the same, adding splashes of slapstick comedy to a somber yakuza/hitman film.
By the end, the movie does kind of veer off in its plotting and seem non-committal to decide just-what-does-it-all-mean? But, throughout the film, I still found myself interested in what was going to happen and unable to predict just what would occur, and I have to attribute that to Kurosawa subverting the fantastic ideas with humor. So, Doppleganger does feel like a mess, but at least it is a mess of surprises.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Picture details, in general, are pretty good. The print is clean and free from any spots or dirt. The color is relatively vibrant, though it does have a slightly muted levels like most of K Kurosawa's works. Likewise sharpness is well rendered. The only real complaint is with the contrast and grain, which yields a grayer, noisier pallette in some of the darker scenes.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0, and DTS tracks, Japanese language with optional English or Spanish subtitles. The mix is very good. Dialogue is clear and centered. The subtitle translation appears free from any glaring flaws. The real standout is the score, which is perfect for the oddly toned film.
Extras: Trailer— "Making of Doppleganger" Featurette (19:33).— Kiyoshi Kurosawa Interview (5:18).— Tartan release trailers.
Conclusion: I've gotta' be careful with recommending this one. Well, the film is weird, a horror concept with an execution that occasionally strays into black comedy. I found myself pleasantly engaged by the oddness. But as just a horror/sci fi film, it doesn't work, and as a comedy, it probably isn't funny enough. Still, for daring viewers, I'll recommend it. It is a good DVD, with even the brief 5 min interview giving good insight into just what was going on in the directors head. Still, for the average viewer, I'll have to say, rent it first.