When Christopher Nolan released the audacious and interwoven narrative that was Memento he created a piece of cinema that not only demanded a full viewing by those engaging with the work, but required it in order to truly understand the complexities of what he was trying to do in regards to the frame of storytelling, as well as in consideration of the frames of cinematic space. When people went nuts about his more recent Inception, I kowtowed to it being cinematically sound but also silently remembered that his earlier work was far more engaging, entertaining and deconstructive in regards to what the traditional film could do despite having a relatively minuscule budget. I say all this because it is a rare feat for film to be so different and demand that those watching it give it their full attention, but more so to be rewarding as a result. In most cases, such as something like 13 Tzameti, the film will take an idea and flounder it in its own sense of pretension and self-aggrandizing glory failing to see the message beneath its push for grittiness and non-narrative constructs. Doppelgänger, hereafter Doppelganger for the various search engines, is from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and in its quest for an understanding of how one categorizes the self in relation to a larger social other, he manages to push not only to the level of the puzzling Memento but well beyond its limitations, breaking down even more cinematic conventions in the process, even if doing so required the simplest of camera tricks and editing techniques, and while the currently available transfer of the film is far from stellar, it is better than not having this work readily available to American audiences and the particular sects of fan boys that see Inception or anything Nolan puts out as the pinnacle of cinematic achievement, in which case most items are far from reaching (Inception is quite good I am willing to accept its having merit). I included Doppelganger in the month of horror movies, partially because it is wildly revisionist, but too because it demands viewers to reconsider what is truly scary in life, positing that an encounter with one's self in all its impossibility would prove far more challenging to the self than any degree of horrendous other, because it breaks down the very dichotomy in the process. This has the same chilling effect as it does in Primer, but here with even more of a confrontational intensity.
Doppelganger focuses on the work of Michio Hiyazaki (Koji Yakusho) an engineer who is working on a machine for disabled persons that is both incredibly mobile, while also possessing the finesse to properly crack an egg into a bowl, a task that is considerably difficult given the still clunky movements of even his high end robot prototype. Caving under the stress related to such a project, doubled with a deadline, Michio's day is made all the worse when he discovers that a duplicate version of himself has begun occupying all the same places he does, specifically a coffee shop, but eventually meeting him in his own house. Knowing of the ancient folklore that one who sees their doppelgänger is assuredly moments away from their death Michio begins to panic even more, actually ignoring his work in the process, even when it prove successful at an expo of the product. Frustrated, Michio begins to mount all his efforts into confronting the doppelgänger who while similar in looks is the complete opposite of the repressed and reluctant Michio, using all of his will and power to exert himself in the world in a wily and destructive way, going about killing individuals and sleeping with women, much to the demise of Michio who fears that they will mistake the engagements as actions undertaken by himself, leading Michio on a frivolous quest to prove the difference between himself and his identical doppelgänger only able to convince a few that he is actually a twin brother, thus explaining his questionable actions and problematic ways. Yet, when Michio comes to discover that the doppelgängers destructive attitudes are actually helping to relieve stress from his life, he begins to embrace its presence, allowing his particularly rampant and carefree attitude to wash over his previously troubled body, playing into blind ignorance in favor of allowing himself a continually stress free state of existence. Yet even in these moments of joy, the actions of the doppelgänger prove to get a bit too out of hand and Michio must step in and correct the actions of his other self, one that ends in even more violent results than before, but not prior to an absurd set of events that take place in an abandoned building, one of which includes a giant disco ball careening out of control.
The self and the other prove to be the great divide in terms of privilege and oppression in pretty much any system of hierarchies in the world. Doppelganer, absolutely destroys any possibilities of quantifying these two opposing forces, instead; suggesting that the self/other divide is entirely an internal construct created by one to define and set up an existential understanding of how one should engage with the world. Now this becomes tricky when the self must create a tangible other in the real world, whether it be through creating a sense of higher moral standing based on religious/philosophical ideals, or in an oppressive sense through suggestions of inferiority that are always ungrounded and often predicated upon some seemingly miniscule genetic difference. Again, Doppelganger manages to tackle both of these as constructs by showing that when extended to consider an identical body this becomes impossible to assert, let alone conceive, affirmed by Kusosawa's splitting of the screen into multiple spaces to consider how and why a person would demand a separation from one's self, here in a very literal sense. What makes Michio's doppelgänger distinct is its seeming lack for moral conviction or sense of restraint, giving it a very id-like quality that he initially attempts to suppress, however, when it becomes evident that these actions speak to his internal frustrations Michio is willing to overlook such problems in favor of his (the self's) higher advancement. Indeed, by throwing the genetic variations out the window, it also causes Michio to consider his own points of power and lack, drawing upon his own failures by having to face himself in a mirror of sorts, one that constantly haunts his every move. By seeing his own loneliness on display through an other version that seeks harmony, Michio begins to fall apart at the seams, but this is not before the other, or perhaps the self, takes it upon itself to engage in a destructive path, one that is never truly reprimanded, for Michio has managed to exist space as both the self and the other, throwing any sense of authority or hierarchical structure out the window. Kurosawa breaks the conventions of cinema in order to show that rules and guidelines are foolish when the very signifier that have caused them power are duplicated, subverted and invariably undermined. This is a bold and forward thinking piece of cinema that demands to be viewed fully and critically.
Key Scene: The first of the filmic space fracturings is so pleasantly unexpected as to set the pace for the remainder of the film as it grows exponentially more bizarre.
The transfer of this film currently available is a bit underwhelming, as such a rental will make due until a bluray is made available.