Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tsukamoto Revisited: GEMINI (1999) A Prophet Goes Mainstream

As previously mentioned, the filmed works of Shinya Tsukamoto are by and large concerned with the paradoxical nature of the "successful" japanese person, versus their innermost selves who are seemingly being dragged behind. So when given the chance to explore this conflict with a slightly larger budget than ever before, his first foray into vibrant color is ironically set in the days prior to the advent. Loosely based upon a tale by the legendary Edogawa Rampo, GEMINI tells the story of Meiji era doctor Yukio Daitokuji (Masahiro Motoki), and his growing divide between his devotion to his practice, and to the powerful of the community. Seemingly unfazed by pride and disdain for those lesser in social stature, his charmed life as an heir to a respected physician is suddenly made hell by way of a malevolent doppelganger. And all the while, the mystery behind his beautiful amnesiac wife (Ryo) finds itself key to the storm. His denying of the poor as plague threatens to harm all throughout the region summons up secrets thought to have been buried in the name of the doctor's success. And as matters spiral, it becomes clear that the worlds of Rampo and Tsukamoto might very well be cut from the same cloth.

His world shattered, and now cast out of his own home, the doctor comes to the revelation that this double is vying for his wife, and with possible good reason. While languishing for a return to his life from the bottom of a long abandoned well, Daitokuji must not only contend with a double hellbent on usurping his life as a Tokyo doctor and husband, but of some truly disturbing facts about the world he and his family struggled to create. Beginning with a bizarre stench that begins to hover over his practice, and eventually the death of his secret-bearing parents, the doctor's place in the nature of community is placed headlong into a funhouse of mirrors scenario where nature was never far from reclaiming what pride had sought to cut away. 

The mystery and fury behind the tale feels very much like a tailor-made prequel to Tsukamoto's film output. His direct phrasing regarding Daitokuji and his relationship with his wife is a perfect seed for the cybernetic nightmares to come in the 1990s. We are given time to take in the growing divide occurring between the rich and poor, and the attitudes that pervade. Just enough to imply that Rin has the outsider's view, which plays heavily into the disruptions that begin to avalanche over the course of the story. Tsukamoto takes great advantage of playing with time and perspective without much of the hard-edged experimentation of his earlier films. And even so, his trademark handheld imagery and post film ADR work keeps matters feeling that indie aura. Especially unique to this period, is the lush color work which was a bold move. As if the world were a more lively place before greed and entitlement overtook the land, bleeding the color out. Acted as if part of an old world play, the broad gestures of Motoki, Ryo, Tadanobu Asano, and the rest of the cast embody the colorful landscape of the film in the spirit of a nightmarish traveling band of performers not unlike the circus we experience within the story. Tsukamoto understands his roots. And considering the release year (amidst the burgeoning J-Horror boom), there certainly was a yearning for implanting an origin story for contemporary terrors.

And judging from GEMINI, that terror is part and parcel with humankind.  

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