A surprising change of pace for Japanese cult figure Shinya Tsukamoto, “Gemini” puts aside the techno-violence and visceral hammering of his previous work to weave together elements of psychological costume drama, horror and Butoh-style theatricality. Examining the clash between good and evil in a revenge tale centering on twin brothers in love with the same mysterious woman, this strikingly designed thriller is gripping despite a certain heavy-handedness and the director’s customarily chaotic narrative approach. Niche theatrical and video markets have been receptive to Tsukamoto’s films in the past, and this one should prove no different.
“Gemini” represents one of the rare occasions in which Tsukamoto — best known for his flesh-and-metal “Tetsuo” cyberfantasies and for more recent thrillers about man’s battle against a cold environment, like “Tokyo Fist” — has adapted existing material rather than working from an original story. Source here is a novel by popular Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo (a play on the local pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe).
Set in 1910, story takes place in a Tokyo district not far from a crime-infested slum area whose feral-looking inhabitants are treated as untouchables. A static, stagy opening stretch recaps the training of young doctor Yukio (Masahiro Motoki) to take over the family medical practice and his marriage to Rin (Ryo), a beautiful woman with no memory of her past. Action picks up when a ghostly presence starts haunting the house, appearing before Yukio’s aged parents and, in quick succession, prompting their sudden deaths.
The ghost is revealed to be flesh and blood when Yukio is attacked in the garden by his identical twin brother Sutekichi (also played by Motoki), who throws him down an unused well and assumes his identity. Gradually, the malevolent twin’s past is pieced together. Abandoned as a baby, he floated downstream to the slums, where he was raised by a theater troupe, embarking on a career in crime with his lover Rin. Usurping Yukio’s place in his marital bed without informing Rin of the switch, Sutekichi taunts his brother, pushing him to the brink of death. But Yukio’s hatred gives him the strength to strike back.
While linear plotting has never been a major concern for Tsukamoto, “Gemini” unveils its puzzle-like mysteries in a considerably more coherent way than the director’s last feature, “Bullet Ballet.”
Despite the difference in tone and style from his previous work, there are enough bursts of kinetic violence to satisfy regular fans. Tsukamoto also handled editing and cinematography chores, shooting mainly with handheld cameras that become more physically volatile as the drama escalates. Costume and makeup designs are often arrestingly elaborate, as is the use of sound, blending heightened elemental noise with a varied score by Chu Ishikawa that ranges from obsessive drumming to diabolical choral chanting.