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Doppelganger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003)
Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa achieves a real breakthrough with Doppelganger, his latest horror film. Though it's not as ambitious or deep as many of his films are, it's more successful than any that I've seen to date. Perhaps more significantly, at least for me, it's the first one of Kurosawa's films that I would describe as fun. Doppelganger begins with a set-up similar to Kurosawa's other movies. There's the slow encroachment of a mysterious supernatural force, the main character's worldly frustrations acting as a conduit for that unexplained evil, and parallels for that specter in our technology (specifically here, a mind-controlled robotic wheelchair that acts upon one's will). Once the mischievous doppelganger shows up, however, the movie takes on an unexpected, and totally welcome, comic spin. Koji Yakusho, who has appeared in several other Kurosawa films, is used superbly in the lead, double role of Michio. Michio, an inventor whose unsupportive corporate environment has him in a slump, has his life take a drastic turn when an honest-to-goodness doppelganger appears before him and begins to forcibly remove the obstacles in the way of Michio creative process.
Doppelganger provides no concrete reason for the emergence of Michio’s double, but as in Kurosawa’s other films, there seems to be a general social malaise contributing to its presence. A subplot about another character’s doppelganger progresses to the point where the twin begins writing the novel that the original being never got around to writing, suggesting that, in the film’s universe, unrealized dreams eat away at a person until a physical split occurs. On a serious level, this is a movie about how when confronted with an idealized version of ourselves, we begin to recognize our own limitations and shrink away. More humorously, it’s about how an incarnation of ourselves with the will to accomplish our dreams might not be as nice as we are. Michio’s double is not so much malevolent as he is self-centered at all costs. That characteristic allows Kurosawa to adopt a tone that starts out silly and proceeds steadily toward absurdity throughout the last act. I wish the director would combine this more approachable tone with his usual ambition, though. To these eyes, Kurosawa still seems like a developing director, but he’s admittedly an increasingly interesting one. For all of its deftly employed split screens and double effects (which might not be impressive, per se, but are seemless), the movie that Doppelganger most readily recalls is George Romero’s Monkey Shines, which similarly featured a monster that carried out the latent desires its master could not express. Doppelganger is a simple movie, but it is an entertaining ones. Fans of Kurosawa’s previous work might be disappointed since it probes less into the depths of our bruised modern soul than Kurosawa's other movies, but since I found those films to be a mixed bag of pretension and profundity, I'm scarcely disappointed.