Doppelganger follows research scientist Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) encountering an exact double whose true intention he’s uncertain off. A title like Doppelganger leaves little to the imagination if this was a horror movie. Doing things you would expect a horror movie to do like setting up the rumor if you see a your doppelganger you’ll die, and the doppelganger having devious intentions. Having the classical scenes where the doppelganger causes trouble, and the original taking the blame for his double misdeeds. Such scenes are typical for stories of this nature before revealing it’s true intention to use doppelganger as a metaphor. Using the doppelganger to have characters do some soul searching over building up scares. Opting more for a psychological, and black comedy approach turning a otherwise mundane story into a more interesting, but very messy movie.
One twist to the doppelganger concept is bluntly stating that people who see their doppleganger regularly kill themselves being unable to accept a physical manestification of everything they wish to be. There’s Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku) who expresses a dislike for her brother doppelganger despite him being everything she wanted her brother to be. Instead of building the movie around these kind of ideas they just remain interesting points to think about. Missing out on the opportunity to create more dynamic characters than just our protagonist. Hayasaki, and his doppelganger regularly bicker with each other revealing bits about Hayasaki as a person. There’s nothing subtle about what you’re meant to take away from the conversations when things are bluntly laid out. For instance, Hayasaki doppelganger telling Hayasaki his flaws, and how he should simply embrace his darker aspect. Leaving little to imagination to work out it themes.
Same thing applies with characters in the movie. Hayasaki assistants in the first half get replace by new characters he barely meets in the second half. A pointless choice since these new characters in the second half basically act the same as Hayasaki assistants in the first half. Their roles are simple from being the love interest to the greedy assistant who wants more recognition, and profit. The third act in particular goes from subtle character development into being more blunt caricatures of their personalities. While the transformation of the main characters are subtle what is not laid out as subtly is how they changed, especially when some dialogue just plainly explain a lesson they learned.
As for the doppelgangers the film is not interested in discussing their origin. As mentioned before they’re simply use as a metaphor. Much like the invention of the Artificial Body (more accurately mechanical chair with arms) Hayasaki must accept, and move on from his own limitations. There conversations about hinting at the group, or the machine oppressing the individual, but these ideas aren’t fleshed out as clearly. Hayasaki spends over half of the movie away from any oppressing outside force. By removing his own shackles the outside forces don’t bother him until the third act. The company Hayasaki formerly worked for just lets him be with basically no qualms about their professional relationship. Making any commentary it has to say about the shackles in society just seem vaguely there, but not realized.
On the comedy side of things it’s hit or miss. The humor is typically deadpan with jokes spread out sparsely throughout the movie. Like a moment where Hayasaki is trying to get his Artificial Body, an assistant asks if she could help him, Hayasaki says yes she can, and lets her do all the work. Generally I ended up wondering if something was meant to be a joke, or taken seriously since both type of scenes are given the same treatment. The final act of the movie is where it takes a turn for the ridiculous. For instance, Hayasaki, and Yuka being able to keep up pace with speeding van that gets stolen from them. Another goofy moment is Hayasaki somehow surviving getting run over by a van. This is also where most of the lingering plot points are finally resolved, and sadly it’s also in the most spoonfed way it could think off. Once it finally gets to the ending the whole journey feels oddly satisfying despite the occasional clumsiness.
The main reason I checked out this movie is none other than the man himself Koji Yakusho. His performance in Doppelganger proves to me once again he’s true talent to keep an eye out for. Playing two different characters with different personality is not a difficult task. What is difficult is portraying a subtle change in those two characters in a way where it confuses the viewer on whether or not they’re following Hayasaki, or the double. By slowly changing the direction of both the characters he portrayed he’s able to send the viewer for a loop. Most of the film he’s mostly subdue in his shyness, and on the other hand also confident, and free spirited. Further making it difficult to distinguish who he’s portraying exactly in any given scene, and in a positive way no less.
With two Koji Yakusho on screen the trickery to getting this done is pretty simple. Through the uses of green screen, CGI, and body double this task is accomplished. Given it’s relatively low budget it’s odd thinking a film that’s very simplistic required a lot of special effect work for around half of it. There’s nothing impressive about the special effects work in the movie, but considering I was surprise to learn it even had any special effect work done means it’ll probably unnoticed for other who see it. Kiyoshi Kurosawa writer/director attempts to give the film style in a few scenes. Most of the time it’s simply a wide shot of actors talking, but whenever there’s two Koji Yakusho on screen he’ll use a split screen effect to throw viewer off on who is who. This split screen effect it the most visually interesting it gets since it’s the only times Kurosawa tries to be visually bold in any form.
The other actors in the movie do fine in their roles. Hiromi Nagasaki gets a decent size role without complexity in her character. She’s unsure for half of the movie, and the other half she remains optimistic. Akira Emoto who doesn’t appear much in the movie playing Yakusho best friend provides Yakusho best onscreen chemistry. Whenever Emoto, and Yakusho share a scene a lot of their characters history gets vividly just through their performance. Yusuke Santamaria plays his part like a slacker until the final act where his performance is mildly crazy. Becoming more eccentric in his delivery resulting to a silly character being made. As for the rest of the small cast, that’s about it since actors in the first half are forgotten about. With this small cast it’s a good thing they’re good actors because they help make even the uneventful portions feel important.
Doppelganger is an odd film with interesting ideas, hit or miss humor, and a messy execution. All the ideas are here to create something with more depth than it ended up doing. Thankfully, Koji Yakusho performance makes the writing shortcomings easier to forgive thanks to his subtle performance in changing his persona is done flawlessly. It won’t leave you pondering on its themes, and ideas as much as writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa would like, but if you’re looking for a different take on the doppelganger types of story this one will entertain, and provide some mild intrigue in it themes.