After his wobbly foray into artier fare with the jellyfish movie “Bright Future,” Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to safer ground with “Doppelganger,” an offbeat, lightly comic spin on the psycho-thriller genre with which he made his name. Inventively scripted tale of a scientist whose life is remodeled by his exact double, pic may be too quirky to attract attention from more serious fests but is well tailored for fantasy events, with some offshore ancillary action also indicated on the strength of helmer’s rep.
Kurosawa regular Koji Yakusho plays Michio Hayasaki, a research scientist who works for Medical Cytech, a faceless conglom. Under pressure to come up with another hit for the company, Hayasaki has become obsessed with his latest project, a “human body chair” equipped with artificial limbs operated by the sitter via sensors. One evening, tired and emotional, he thinks he sees his Doppleganger in a restaurant.
He’s not the only one. A young woman, Yuka Nagai (Hiromi Nagasaku), was at home with someone she thought was her brother when her real brother committed suicide someplace else. When Hayasaki’s assistant tells him that people die after they see their exact double, he gets even more paranoid.
What starts out as a typically creepy Kurosawa movie set in normal surroundings soon takes on a lighter tone as Hayasaki’s double turns up in his apartment and spooks out the frightened scientist. Showing a disdain for social norms that is completely alien to Hayasaki’s character, the double takes over the scientist’s career, robbing and killing people to get money to make Hayasaki independent of Cytech.
Initially horrified, Hayasaki soon goes along with his enforced “partner” when he realizes it’s to his benefit. He’s later joined by an assistant, Kimishima (Yusuke Santamaria), whom the double has hired, and by Yuka, who’s drawn to Hayasaki and understands his situation.
Film’s theme recalls a host of Mephistophelean movies in which a shy man pacts with the devil and then wants to take over once his confidence grows. But Kurosawa keeps viewers on their toes with inventive twists and turns, plus sudden shifts to multi-screen in which the panels continuously conjoin and separate. Pic’s mood also keeps flipping from comedy to macabre horror, as people whack each other with hammers and the double even makes hay with Yuka’s growing attraction to the real Hayashi.
Final act, as the group sets out to present their invention to the Cytech folks, is almost like a road movie by fellow Japanese helmer Sabu, with paths crossing en route and much mayhem.
In his sixth movie with Kurosawa, Yakusho is clearly at ease in the double part, and is helped by seamless f/x in which the two characters sometimes cross each other’s planes. Nagasaku, a TV drama actress making her big-screen debut, is cute as Yuka, while Santamaria develops later on as the scruffy assistant who goes ballistic.
At the end of the day, pic isn’t much more than the sum of its parts, but is enjoyable while it lasts.