Dir. Kyoshi Kurosawa. Japan 2003. 107 mins.
After the disappointing Cannes performance of his last film Bright Future, Japan's current cult master of bizarre mystery is back on more comfortable grounds with this exploration of a classical gothic theme, transferred into the world of modern research of prosthetic machines. Kurosawa uses the doppelganger effect to represent the split personality of a scientist developing a machine that could perfectly copy human functions by hooking into the patient's mind while attacking, at the same time, the crassly capitalist, profit-oriented system within which science is compelled to work.
The two themes are uneasily wrapped together: the film starts as the classic obsessive tale of a scientist stuck amidst his research, moves into a treatise on schizophrenia and ends with a righteous protest against the moral decay of the medical industries. However, the picture's solid professional veneer could still help it travel extensively, both to festivals and to specialised theatres which have already displayed their sympathy for Kurosawa's brand of filmmaking.
The doppelganger, a familiar concept in fantastic literature, drama and art, exploited in movies since the very early days of the silents, is an exact replica of a real person, described sometimes as the repressed inner being making its escape to exist on its own. It is said to bear bad luck and laying eyes on one's own double could mean death.
For Professor Hayasaki, Kurosawa's obsessive researcher, the sudden emergence of his doppelganger is the release of his frustrations at not being able to complete his futuristic contraption: a chair, similar to a dentist's, that communicates his orders to the robotic machine within. It is then capable of the most delicate operations, like breaking eggs and scrambling them or lighting a cigarette, as well as the most strenuous ones, like playing tennis or squash.
The professor is single-mindedly focused on his work and exasperated by the demands of his financial backers who demand to see promising, bankable results that can be merchandised. He is also hindered by the clumsiness of his two devoted assistants, his professional problems bottling down all his natural impulses and seems to be inviting the intrusion of a yin to his yang that will air everything he keeps inside his head: someone ruthless enough to provide the resources and to goad him unscrupulously towards the successful achievement of his goal.
Of course the problem is that once this goal is achieved, the respectable professor will refuse to accept the coarse, vile presence of his double and tries to get rid of it, with the help of a thug he has taken on as a partner.
Believing that a human being is not complete until it assumes responsibility for his dark side as well, Kurosawa evidently carries his dualism into the medical research field as well, clearly hinting that a pact with the devil - money - is inevitable, one way or another, for science to progress. However, once he has stated his concept, he can't find a satisfactory solution for his specific dramatic conflict, opting for a rather idealistic, naive ending.
Using split screens to enhance the effect of a double personality, and asking Koji Yakusho, one of Japan's best known actors, to play his dual roles without any visible distinction between them, Kurosawa's tale draws most of its suspense from guessing which one of Hayasaki's two identities is on screen at any given time. By the end one is left to wonder which one of the two doubles survived. Or possibly, as the film suggests, they have blended again by assuming, as they should, each other's personalities.
Prod co: Towani Corporation
Int'l sales: Mirovision
Prods: Atsushi Sato, Atsuyuki Shimoda, Motoo Kawabata
Scr & ed: Kyoshi Kurosawa
Cinematography: Noryuki Mizuguchi
Main cast: Koji Yakusho, Hiromi Nagasaku, Yusuke Santamaria, Akira Emoto