Friday, April 10, 2009
Running time: 83 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
Shinya Tsukamoto’s "Gemini" grabs the viewer’s attention right away with a bizarre opening sequence consisting of discomforting close-ups of a rotting animal carcass crawling with maggots and rats as an apocalyptic choir is heard on the soundtrack. From this jarring introduction, the film shifts to Yukio, a young, highly renowned doctor who lives with Rin, his wife who suffers from amnesia after a terrible fire, and his mother and father. There is a definite sense of unease in the household, particularly surrounding the parents’ chilly behavior towards their son’s bride. Tragedy soon strikes, first in the father’s highly unusual death, closely followed by the mother’s demise, which is triggered by the nighttime appearance of a strange, cart-wheeling, bestial figure clad in animal skins and bearing a strange birthmark on his leg. Shortly thereafter, Yukio is attacked and thrown down a dried-up well. Taunting him from above, his tormentor, who is identical in appearance to him and claims to be Satekichi, his twin brother, assumes his identity and forces him to accept his true nature.
"Gemini" is not your typical J-Horror flick. Instead of trying to get the maximum amount of jump-in-your-seat scares from its audience, it invites a deep consideration of themes such as identity and kinship. In his occupation as a doctor, Yukio gladly treats wounded generals, soldiers and officials, but regards the sickly inhabitants of a nearby slum with contempt. So it comes as quite a shock to him when his doppelgänger reveals how, after being abandoned at birth, he grew up to live a life immersed in crime and poverty – and with Rin by his side, no less. As Satekichi continues to steal away Yukio’s life and Rin is increasingly drawn into confusion surrounding the sudden reappearance of her lover (who, never reverts to his true identity in her presence), the film quite admirably keeps the audience guessing and thinking right up to the inspired point when the role reversal between the two brothers is fulfilled.
Those expecting the energetic, hyper-inventive aesthetics of "Tetsuo the Iron Man" may be a bit disappointed with "Gemini", though Tsukamoto still offers much in the way of his stylistic sensibilities. He makes consistently good use of color throughout the film, sticking mainly to shades of cool blue, hazy orange and, in the well sequences, eerie green. The slum is depicted as a simmering cauldron of heat and disease, with its occupants wearing pale, ghostly makeup, festive costumes and strange, enormous hairdos. Numerous sequences are given a claustrophobic intensity through the use of shaky, handheld camerawork. Oddly, many characters appear without eyebrows, and at one point, the doctor and his assistants protect themselves from disease by donning unusually designed quarantine outfits that recall the conical masks worn in "A Snake of June".
While it has a good share of unique visual elements, "Gemini" is most impressive in its intelligent take on the “evil twin” plot device and how it approaches its intriguing, complex characters. In this film, Tsukamoto exercises much creativity and depth, in the process providing a refreshing alternative to the usual, tired strain of Japanese horror.
Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.