Ten-Year-Old Film

Doppelganger

directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Central Question: Can a film divided against itself stand?
Number of split-screen sequences in the film: four; Length of longest take in the film: three minutes, four seconds; This Doppelganger not to be confused with: Doppelgänger (1969), directed by Robert Parrish, Doppelganger (1993), directed by Avi Nesher and starring Drew Barrymore; Representative dialogue exchange: “Which Hayasaki are you? You’re the real one, right?” “I’m whichever one you want.”

Doppelganger, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to that Kurosawa), is a film that, like its protagonist, superimposes itself on itself. For one hour and forty-seven minutes it hopscotches in tone, shifting abruptly among all sorts of genres and then looping back through them, from graphic horror to metaphysical thriller to pratfall comedy to romance. All without a trace of irony: this is not a film interested in “deconstructing” genres to make a point. Rather, Doppelganger is fueled by the total commitment of the remarkable actor KÔji Yakusho to his two parts: the character Michio Hayasaki and the character of Hayasaki’s double.

The film opens with a young man walking casually up the edge of a bridge and jumping to his death. As in most of Kurosawa’s films, there are no visual or musical cues to warn us; it’s like the camera just happened to catch the jump. We later learn that the jumper had seen his doppelgänger: as one of Hayasaki’s coworkers explains in passing, “If you see [your doppelgänger], you die.” At this early point in the story, the film relies on long, slow shots to signal a deep sense of unease and menace. But then something strange happens: around the same time Hayasaki sees his doppelgänger (a funnier, greedier, sloppier, meaner, animalistic version of himself), the film goes off the rails. It splits, just as Hayasaki has: suddenly it feels like we’re watching a supercharged absurdist comedy, even though it still looks like the film we had been watching.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Nicholas Rombes

Nicholas Rombes is an English professor at The University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, Michigan. He is author of the 33 1/3 book Ramones, and a writer for the Rumpus and Filmmaker Magazine.

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