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Tartan Video presents
Doppelgänger (Dopperugenga) (2003)

"Why the hell do I have to listen to me lecturing myself?"
- Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 27, 2005

Stars: Koji Yakusho, Hiromi Nagasaku, Yusuke Santamaria
Other Stars: Masahiro Toda, Hitomi Sato, Akira Emoto
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language
Run Time: 01h:46m:32s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 807839001303
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BD+B C+

DVD Review

Horror literature is rife with stories of wicked doubles who take over the lives of their victims; notable examples include Dostoevsky's The Double and Poe's William Wilson. Usually, sighting one's exact double is an omen of death or disaster. Noted Japanese horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Seance) tries his hand at the venerable genre, injecting some significant comedy into the nasty goings-on.

Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) is a scientist laboring at perfecting a chair for the spine-injured disabled that responds to nerve impulses near the brain. He's not making any progress, and things get much worse when his exact double (also Yakusho) shows up and starts causing trouble for him. Yuka Nagai (Hiromi Nagasaku) had the same trouble with her brother; when his doppelgänger showed up he committed suicide and his double took his place, annoying her. She attempts to confide in Michio, who loses his job but works with his double to steal the prototype chair in order to keep working on it. The double hires Kimishima (Yusuke Santamaria) to assist Michio, but the assistant has plans of his own. Soon the foursome find themselves unable to trust anyone in their own circle...or are they a fivesome?

Where such doubles are usually mysterious figures of menace, Michio's double seems much more self-satisfed; he is more comfortable than Michio is with himself, and unlike the standard double, he actually tries to befriend Michio. But he's still a spirit of malevolence, raping Yuka in an unsuspecting moment and, in a misguided effort to help, murdering her brother's double, while telling her he has moved to America. Kurosawa uses some interesting split-screen techniques, most frequently with a triptych that further shatters Michio's psyche. The expected Hollywood confrontation between Michio and his double never comes, and the resolution of their conflict is rather suprising. The ending had the potential to veer into extreme sappiness, but with a wink Kurosawa pulls back just before the brink of sentimentality, rescuing the finale.

Kurosawa and Yakusho have worked in quite a few films together, and the collaboration is a winning one here. Yakusho does a fine job of playing the double as an uninhibited version of Michio, keeping the personalities distinct but also similar enough that the audience is frequently quite unsure of which one they're seeing onscreen. Newcomer Hiromi Nagasaku is appropriately charming as the female lead, while Santamaria gives a brooding menace to his portrayal of Kimishima, all smiles on the outside but full of resentment on the interior. Akira Emoto has some good bits as Murakami, a corrupt executive whose career is too closely tied to Michio's project.

Loss of identity is one of the scariest real-life horrors; the doppelgänger doubles that fear by playing on natural insecurities. What would be worse than to be replaced, unless it would be for the replacement to do a better job of living one's life than the original? This unique take on the legend is entertaining and leavened with enough humor to keep the violence palatable, though on a few occasions (such as the double's eerie whistling as he happily murders) the humor is incredibly dark. It's not really a horror film, but there are enough genre elements to keep horror fans pleased, and it's not so gory as to preclude access to general audiences.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For a 2003 film, this transfer is a mess. There's substantial pixelation and visible line structure as well as significant aliasing and dot crawl. Edge enhancement is prominent, giving the picture an unpleasantly digital appearance. Reds are oversaturated and often very blocky. It's anamorphic widescreen, but it's not good at all.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Three different Japanese audio tracks are present, including a DTS and DD 5.1 mix and a more subdued Dolby Surround track. They all sound quite fine, and after correcting for volume levels, don't sound appreciably different, though the 5.1 mixes have the obvious edge in low bass. Surround activity is mostly reserved for the excellent and witty score by Yusuke Hayashi. Hiss and noise are minimal.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Phone, A Tale of Two Sisters, Oldboy, A Snake of June
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:26s

Extras Review: Tartan provides a few good extras, most notably a Making Of (19m:33s) that delves in particular into the doubling photography and some background on the cast and the film as well as behind-the-scenes footage. A short (5m:16s) interview with Kurosawa covers his goals in making the film and his collaborations with Yakusho. Both are worthwhile. There's a trailer for the film plus four other Oriental horrors, but they're all nonanamorphic widescreen (except A Snake of June, which is anamorphic).

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A restrained and often very funny version of the legend of the doppelgänger, with some good extras but an unfortunately poor transfer for such a new film.


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