Tartan Video // 2003 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 25th, 2005
What if your worst nightmare turned out to be you?
Although it has a strong first half and some very creepy moments, Doppelganger runs out of twists and turns halfway through and completely falls apart.
Michio Hayasaki (Kôji Yakusho, Pulse) is a driven scientist on the verge of creating a machine that can operate through sheer willpower, allowing the disabled to move around and manipulate objects. Although the project seems to be at a standstill, things change when he meets his doppelganger. This other version of him is willing to do unpleasant things that he would never imagine, but he starts to take advantage of the opportunity. Soon, though, the double starts to invade other areas of his life, and he is forced to take drastic action. Helping him is a young woman named Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku), whose brother died after meeting his doppelganger.
Horror mythology is a funny thing. Consider vampire movies. Although there are a number of common elements in vampire mythology, the rules change from story to story, and we generally accept that. The doppelganger is a less-used myth, involving a figure that looks identical to you, but is the opposite in personality. This film references that mythology, as well as the core notion that seeing your doppelganger means that your death is imminent. Then, it throws the mythology away, as the two Hayasakis begin to do business with one another. These kinds of inconsistencies run through the film, holding it back from becoming the film it ought to have been.
The beginning of Doppelganger is actually pretty good, as Yuka is haunted by the appearance of her brother's doppelganger after his death. At the same time, Hayasaki works through his denial of his double and comes to an acceptance with respect to him. This section of the film is quite creepy, and asks a number of interesting questions about human nature and duality. Do we secretly wish for a version of ourselves that is willing to do and say the things that we are too frightened to do and say? Would it be wonderful or terrible to spend time with someone who knows us as well as we know ourselves? Alas, these questions are tossed aside as the film progresses. The logical climax of the film happens at about the midpoint of the film. After that, it suddenly becomes a thriller involving a race between Hayasaki, one of his old business associates, and one of his employees. It has little connection to the premise of the film, and meanders along aimlessly until the unfocused end of the film. For a long time I had no idea where the film was headed, and when I found out, I didn't really care anymore.
There are moments of brilliance in Kôji Yakusho's performance as Hayasaki and his doppelganger. When the two of them are together, he manages to make them easily distinguishable without having one of the characters in a silly hat or different clothes. However, when there is only one of them present, it's almost impossible to tell which character it is being followed. Perhaps this was part of the point, but at times I found it baffling enough that I became disengaged from the film. After all, the film declares itself to feature a struggle between these two sides. Although the eventual incorporation of the two halves of him is an interesting twist, that transformation isn't clear enough. All of the characters seem too callous about violence, even the ones that aren't supposed to be evil twins. By the end of the film, the regular beatings with wrenches, tire irons, and other hard metal objects become almost comical, which I'm sure was not the intent.
There are some strong points to the film. The cinematography is excellent, especially the split frames used when the two Hayasakis are in the same scene. If it had only featured a stronger script, I think this could have been a remarkable film.
It seems fitting that such a disappointing film would be given this video transfer. It's really ugly. My first guess is that it's been blown up to anamorphic resolution from a letterboxed print without any remastering. The whole film lacks detail, and diagonal lines look absolutely dreadful, even on a relatively small television. On a larger display, it's even worse. The colors are also muted, making it both dull and fuzzy. The sound transfer is stronger. Most of the dialogue and sounds come from the front, but the music has been mixed well using all of the channels. The surrounds could have been put to much better use, but it's an acceptable track. There's no discernible difference between the Dolby 5.1 and DTS tracks.
The disc has a few extras, the largest being a production featurette that shows some behind the scenes footage of the filming process. It is exactly what I've come to expect from Japanese production featurettes. There is also an interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, which reveals his reasons for shifting the tone partway through the film. While I respect his decision to branch out from the genre that he is associated with, just making a different type of film up front would have served him better.
Much like the main character, Doppelganger has two sides. The first is a slow-paced but effective horror film, which is taken over in the second half by a silly and scattered action thriller. In the end, I'm not sure whether a failed attempt at doing something completely different is worse than a paint-by-numbers genre film that works, but I can tell that Kurosawa is capable of so much more than this dull and muddled mess.
Doppelganger is guilty, and hereby sentenced to a savage beating with a tire iron. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is free to go, but encouraged to have a direction in mind before filming his next project.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette
* Interview with Director