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  • Benjamin May

Doppelganger (2003) Review

Michio is an unassuming engineering scientist struggling with his latest project: a robotic chair that would grant the paralysed increased mobility. Though he has made considerable progress with the idea, he is not working fast enough for his bosses, who want it finished ASAP. Highly stressed and on the verge of burnout, he feels as if everything is slipping out of control. Just then, Michio's life takes a drastic turn, as his more assertive doppelganger enters the picture, changing everything irrevocably. Will Michio finish his project, or will his double's machinations ensure his life is nasty, brutish and short?

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and written alongside Takeshi Furusawa, 'Doppelganger' is an interesting psychological-thriller-cum-black-comedy examining themes of identity, duality and free will. Kurosawa and Furusawa strike a fine balance between the humorous and the suspenseful, switching between the two in unexpected ways, which keeps the audience engaged and entertained throughout.

Using the doppelganger motif to examine what happens when one's identity is challenged by a sinister alter ego- as well as how one's choices affect one's fate- the film plunges some intriguing psychological depths. The narrative also has room to discuss the nature of selfhood, the role of technology in society and the ethical dilemmas of scientific innovation, without coming across as overly intellectual or pretentious.

This is not to say 'Doppelganger' is Kurosawa's finest film, for the narrative is somewhat uneven, and outsiders to his oeuvre may find its singular tone alienating. The last act feels rushed in comparison to the first two, despite arriving at a fantastic conclusion. Furthermore, some may find the black-comedy throughout hard to identify and enjoy, or conversely, may feel the film sacrifices some of its psychological depth for the sake of humour. However, while not as assured as his excellent 'Charisma' or as polished as the sinister 'Cure,' 'Doppelganger' is by no means unsuccessful or without narrative merit.

The cinematography, from Noriyuki Mizuguchi, is one of the true strengths of the film. It is of a minimalist style- reliant on long takes, static shots and natural lighting- which enhances the sense of realism and contrast of the surreal plot. The frequent breaking up of the image into thirds heightens the ambiguity of Michio's relationship with his doppelganger, while the use of mirrors and reflections creates a sense of confusion between the two. Additionally, the utilization of camera angles and movements- such as low-angle shots, tracking shots and zooms- emphasizes the presence and actions of Michio's double, often making him appear dominant and menacing.

The central performance from Koji Yakusho is similarly impressive. Like Jekyll and Hyde, he plays Michio and his double as two sides of the same coin; similar yet distinct. Yakusho portrays the differences between the two characters in subtle ways, including slight changes to his tone of voice, posture and facial expressions. He interacts with himself on screen convincingly, masterfully working with digital composites and body doubles to foster the illusion of two identical men. Yakusho conveys the emotions and motivations of both characters with skill and nuance, be it Michio's fear and confusion, or his double's anger and envy. The rest of the cast perform admirably, especially Hiromi Nagasaku as Yuka, Michio's love interest, and Yusuke Santamaria as Kimishima, Michio's colleague and friend, who provides both comic relief and moral support.

An intriguing and comedic exploration of the duality of man, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 'Doppelganger' is a must see for fans of the director. Boasting an engaging narrative that examines mature themes with tact- though is never overly intellectualised- and featuring much entertaining black-comedy, it may not be Kurosawa's best film; but it is by no means a bad one. Bolstered by a terrific central performance from Koji Yakusho- and with fine cinematography throughout- 'Doppelganger' is a twisted tale of two Yakushos that you'd be hard pressed to forget.


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