Double Life  「二重生活」 Dir:  Yoshiyuki Kishi 2016

Double Life   Double Life Film Poster

二重生活 「Niju seikatsu

Running Time: 83 mins

Director:  Yoshiyuki Kishi

Writer: Yoshiyuki Kishi (Screenplay), Mariko Koike (Original Novel)

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masaki Suda, Lily Franky, Setsuko Karasuma, Naomi Nishida, Yukiko Shinohara, Shohei Uno,

Website IMDB

Double Life is the debut feature-film from Yoshiyuki Kishi but it is done with such control you would have no idea. It is based on a novel by Mariko Koike and features a strong cast that bring audiences an interesting drama of a student who becomes obsessed with her neighbour ‘s life.

The student at the centre of the story is Tama (Mugi Kadowaki in her first lead role). She is a philosophy student who lives with her video game designer boyfriend Takuya (a low-key Masaki Suda) in a comfortable apartment.

A Double Life Film Image

When we first see her, she’s slogging through her masters thesis and even questioning the meaning of her own life when her inspirational professor, Shinohara (Lily Franky playing his role in a physically and emotionally constricted manner), gives her some guidance by telling her to follow in the footsteps of the French writer Sophie Calle and follow, in turn, in the footsteps of some random stranger on the street to discover their life.

People watching the film may not be familiar with Sophie Calle and while it isn’t important to know who she is, it is interesting. She is a French philosopher/photographer/artist/writer who is probably best known for stalking random strangers and finding out things about their lives and publishing said things. Personality-wise she comes off as a daredevil and boundary-pusher who challenged convention. Mousy student Tama is nowhere near the forceful personality and has doubts about her own existence but Shinohara encourages her to tail one person with one proviso, “you can’t let them know you’re tailing them.”

Tama is intrigued and, while at a bookshop, spots her seemingly perfect neighbor Ishizaka (an alternately aggressive and smooth Hiroki Hasegawa) in an act of pure impulsiveness. As a nosey neighbour informed her in a piece of exposition earlier, he is a senior editor at Eirin Publishing and every book he handles is a hit. His cute daughter is at a university prep school and his wife is a beauty. In other words, he has it all and yet when Tama starts tailing him she discovers that he is leading a double-life full of steamy sex with a secret lover and midnight assignations.

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Tama, notebook in hand, gets sucked into Ishizaka’s private life but the more the closeted student gets involved the more her behaviour become strange and worries those around her…

Audiences will probably guess that the academic and her test subject are going to get close. The film’s director does well to make the audience feel the draw that Ishizaka’s illicit relationship and sexual assignations have for Tama.

Tama’s constant investigation and the film’s voyeuristic camera ensure we see and feel the same things that she does. As she stalks her prey, we stalk the characters, the camera pretty much hovering over Tama’s shoulder or taking her POV. As she breathlessly runs after Izhizaka and his lover through streets, sneaks into hotel lobbies and restaurants to monitor her prey and make notes in her pad, and hops in taxis to chase them home, we feel the titilation of diving into a juicy love affair and the thrill of the chase itself. Just like Tama, we are living vicariously through her test subject.

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The film’s rhythm is slow (lots of static shots), the atmosphere clinical (emotions and visual/aural flourishes are restrained), especially when Tama is in Academia-land or with her loyal boyfriend Takuya but the film picks up at these exciting moments outdoors, especially when Tama is almost caught or almost lets her subjects slip through her grasp because of real life things such as trying to hop on a subway train with an IC card with no money on it. The nervousness of getting up close but never personal (that’s against the rules) or excitement of evading being rumbled by observant bystanders is even more thrilling but the ultimate emotional highs come when she witnesses the twists and turns in Ishizaka’s love-life – never mind her being discovered, will he be rumbled by his wife and what are his motivations?

The more Tama investigates Ishizaka’s double-life, the more she leads one of her own but she also comes into contact with another form of living which leads her to an academic and personal spring of inspiration – finally, she can fill the hole she thinks she has inside of herself. As is to be expected in a story like this, the person running the experiment becomes influenced by her subject and its due to some hidden emotional problems.

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Tama is no Sophie Calle, she is no force of nature and admits that she is incomplete as a person and through Mugi Kadowaki’s restrained performance we see a young woman who is seemingly all surface and purely absorbed in her work become amusingly obsessed in the drama that she observes. Kadowaki’s acting appropriately veers towards hollow. It lacks an emotional core and there is a restraint in her physicality which prevents her from connecting with others and this in turn sets up a dramatic turn of events in her own life as she comes to identify with Ishizaki and thus comes to understand herself a little better. Alas, will it cost Tama the relationship she has with her boyfriend? Audiences will find out. No spoilers but the ending is strangely satisfying and even transcendent on an existential level as we see the progress that Tama has made as an individual.

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