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Total Crap: 7.14%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"Rarely does a genre derailment end up this well"
4 stars

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to THE Kurosawa) was probably as surprised as his audience when DOPPELGANGER abruptly switched gears from being a moody horror film to an exuberantly funny dark comedy. To his credit, however, he decided to simply roll with it and let the film evolve on its own, anchored by a gripping (and hilarious) dual performance by Koji Yakusho.

Doppelganger begins with a phone call to a young woman named Yuka (Hiromi Nagasaku). She is informed by police that her brother has just committed suicide by jumping in front of a train - even though he's sitting in the next room watching television. Although at first terrified by this doppelganger, she slowly accepts his presence, later confiding to friend Hayasaki that "I like him better than my real brother. At least he's not such a slacker."

Meanwhile, researcher Michio Hayasaki (Yakusho) is trying to finish his life's work - a sensor controlled wheelchair with robotic arms that will give quadriplegics the ability to do a myriad of tasks. He's under pressure to show the board of directors some results, or he may lose funding and be assigned to a more commercially viable project. Arrogant and more than a little prideful, Hayasaki refuses to jump through managerial hoops and soon reaches his breaking point. It's about this time that he discovers a doppelganger of his own, one who shows up unbidden at his apartment and follows him around. But while Hayasaki is aloof and focused obsessively on his research, (even to the point of ignoring the signs of Yuka's interest in him), his doppelganger is gregarious, laid back, and slickly manipulative. When Hayasaki feels trapped by deadlines and the demands of his employers, the doppelganger says "let me take care of everything" - right before he smashes up Hayasaki's lab, steals the prototype machine for him, and secures funding through shady avenues so that Hayasaki can continue his research. What's in it all for the doppelganger? "You can have the fame and the power," he confides to Hayasaki. "I just want the money and the women."

Doppelganger jumps the tracks of its initial horror conventions early on, as Yakusho's portrayal of the dueling Hayasakis gains comedic impetus with every scene they are together in. By the second act, all of the moody and jumpy horror elements have given way to a deliciously dark comedy, and by act three you've forgotten that this started out as a horror film at all. This shift in tone, which was unintentional according to Kurosawa, actually works in the film's favor. As a horror film, Doppelganger was mildly adept, but overly familiar territory. But as a comedy, it's one of the best non-formulaic split-identity romps since Fight Club. The more ludicrous the character's interactions become, the more you can't wait to see what happens next. Not only do the at-odds Hayasakis begin to compete for Yuka's attentions, but a road trip to deliver the stolen prototype to a competing company turns both deadly and hilarious.

DOPPELGANGER is a prime example of organic storytelling done right. Had Kurosawa insisted on sticking to the film's original horror trappings, rather than build on the comedic elements that Yakusho brought to the project, he probably would have ended up with just another adequate but derivative Asian horror film. But by letting the story take off into far left field, he's damn near come up with an accidental comedic masterpiece.

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originally posted: 04/26/04 07:47:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/10/04 Eve It was the worst movie I've ever seen! 1 stars
4/26/04 stenobabe lots of fun 4 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 25-Jan-2005



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