DOPPELGANGER is a sly excursion into the paranormal. It takes the story of the doppelganger, in this case a sort of mirror self, and expands on the idea that to see ones own doppelganger means death. Director and co-writer Kiyoshi Kurosawa starts there and then tweaks the genre and the audiences expectations, subtly changing from a quietly effective horror film into a slick satire on modern life. And that is no less scary, as it turns out.
Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) is a once-great inventor of clever hi-tech devices who now finds himself in a slump. His latest project, a chair that becomes a sort of second body for quadriplegics, is burning through R&D funds without making much progress, much to the politely insistent displeasure of his company. One day, after a hissy fit brought on by a particularly bad day, his comely assistant tells him about a friend of hers whose brother saw his own doppelganger and then committed suicide. Hayasaki dismisses it with his usual brusqueness, but then odd things, or rather one odd thing as in his own doppelganger starts to happen. Is it real, as the suicides was, or is the power of suggestion working on an overworked mind? And is the fact that his doppelganger is wearing the same outfit a subtle accusation that his imagination is not what it used to be in the days when his inventions, like the blood pressure device that keeps his company afloat, actually worked?
Kurosawa presents a tidy world of neatly organized rooms and static camera shots that sometimes expand into a screen split into two or three images. Even when chaos begins to take hold of the screen world, that camera remains oddly still. This is a world marred only by this one little manifestation that is jarring in the way it subverts that order of things so totally. Its worth noting that the only time the camera moves is when its peering around a corner, emulating the curiosity and the fear of someone unable to resist looking, but not fearing to see whats there. The terror grows slowly but hits like a thwack in the gut, comes from a glimpse of someone walking by, sitting at a computer, or just standing there looking back. By the time the doppelganger has moved on to grand theft auto and murder, its almost a relief to have him do something other than just loom. Funny and creepy, sometimes simultaneously, the film has Hayasaka at the mercy of his doppelganger who changes from stalker to life coach, even nurturing mother hen fussing over what xxx eats, albeit while indulging his penchant for blunt force trauma in pursuit of fun and profit. This is not a film of flashy special effects, aside from the double-exposures that allow Hayasaka to interact with himself and those spindly robotic arms on the wheelchair. Perhaps its all the better for it. It takes a perfectly ordinary-looking person, unremarkable except that he emphatically shouldnt be there, and makes him deeply unnerving. Yakusho could be considered a special effect, too, with the way he takes the dual role and runs with it, equally good as the harried, self-loathing genius and as the free spirit with the ever-present smile that is as twisted as his psyche.
Its stated several times that people testing the chair cant control it, the double of their body, because their will is too weak and its a point too salient to not single out. DOPPELGANGER works on the level of the supernatural thriller as the suddenly embodied manifestation of Hayasakas deepest desires and darkest impulses suddenly appears with a smile on his lips and no qualms about social convention, much less the law, and takes over his life. Whether its madness or magic, it doesnt matter because it also works as a piquant commentary on the human nature, where just that scenario is at once repellant and oddly appealing. There is that liberation in surrendering to the dark side, in having someone come in, take over, and actually achieve what the hapless original longs for cant help but be attractive on some level to those living lives of quiet desperation at the mercy of social convention, a corporation, or their own lack of drive. Toss in a jab at the trap that technology snaps on us while offering a different, putatively better, life, and what youve got is a nifty and original piece of work that is impossible to shake off once the lights go up.
Click here for the DVD review of DOPPELGANGER.