Another fascinating and unprecedented film from Japan's
auteur Shinya Tsukamoto. This time around he's turned away from the
cyberpunk gorefests that have become his stock in trade and turned out a lyrical horror
story set in 1910. The results aren't quite up there with Tsukamoto masterworks
like TETSUO and TOKYO FIST, but GEMINI remains a satisfying and memorable work
that bodes well for the future of one of the most vital filmmakers on the scene.
If you've read my
TOKYO FIST review you'll know how
enthusiastic I am about the films of Shinya Tsukamoto. This deranged genius
turned the Japanese film world on its head with 1988's TETSUO, an insane
no-budget wonder that has been described, accurately, as a cyberpunk ERASERHEAD.
Tsukamoto refined his ultra-kinetic style in his subsequent films TETSUO 2,
TOKYO FIST and BULLET BALLET. With GEMINI he's made his greatest leap yet, a
straightforward period horror drama based on a story by Edogawa Rampo.
The late Mr. Rampo, who published numerous novels and
short stories in the early 1900's, is often touted as Japan's "Greatest mystery
writer." We here in the West have only experienced his work through two
collections, JAPANESE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION and THE BLACK LIZARD, as
well as a handful of film adaptations like Kinji Fukasaku's delirious classic
BLACK LIZARD (1968) and Yasuzo Masumura's
BLIND BEAST (1969). Based on these
works, it's clear that Rampo's writing concerned itself with obsession, chiefly
of the sexual variety, and was many, many years ahead of its time. Such
qualities are fully evident in GEMINI, which turns out to fit perfectly the
natures of both Rampo and Tsukamoto.
This film may be a departure for Tsukamoto, but quite a
few of his signature elements are present. Like TOKYO FIST and BULLET BALLET,
the story revolves around madness, despair and a warped love triangle, but it
also deals potently with themes of class warfare and undying love (concerns, no
doubt, of the original story).
Yukio, an affluent doctor living in the early 20th
Century, finds himself haunted by a mysterious double. What initially seems
like a ghostly presence turns horrifyingly real when the sinister figure murders
Yukio's parents and imprisons him at the bottom of a deep well. Flashbacks
reveal that the two men are in fact twins who were separated at birth.
Furthermore, the evil twin had for years lived in squalor with the other's wife,
and with Yukio out of the picture the two resume their sordid courtship.
The opening shot, of maggots writhing in rotting flesh,
pretty much sets the tone. The first 25 or so minutes, establishing the
doctor's placid life, may seem slow, particularly from Tsukamoto, but give it
time: things definitely heat up as the plot grows more complex, with the
director's trademark intensity asserting itself with a vengeance.
This being one of the only Tsukamoto films with an
honest to goodness plot, it's understandable that the storytelling is a bit
muddled and even incoherent at times (I had to view the film twice to sort
everything out). As usual, Tsukamoto's real talent shines through in the
visuals (Tsukamoto, remember, photographs all his films himself). Dizzying
handheld camerawork clashes with quiet, painstakingly composed compositions to
create an atmosphere that's like nothing else. A gorgeous color scheme
consisting of hot, eye-pooping shades of red and blue further compliment one of
the most visually stunning films of Tsukamoto's career--and that's no small
Sedic International Inc./Toho Company Ltd.
Producers: Futoshi Nishimura, Toshiaki Nakazawa
Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Ryo, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Shiho Fujimara, Tadanobu Asano,
Renji Ishibashi, Akaji Maro, Naoto Takenaka