Production Company: Sedic International
Release: 15 September 1999
Length: 84 min.
Format: 35 mm
Director: Tsukamoto Shinya
Based on the novel by: Edogawa Ranpo
Photography: Tsukamoto Shinya
Editor: Tsukamoto Shinya
Music: Ishikawa Tadashi
Executive Producer: Nakazawa Toshiaki
Producer: Nishimura Daishi
Yukio/Sutekichi: Motoki Masahiro
Shigefumi: Tsutsui Yasutaka
Mitsue: Fujimura Shiho
Kakubei: Maro Akaji
Rich man: Takenaka Naoto
Beggar: Ishibashi Renji
Man with sword: Asano Tadanobu
A Drift Between Human, Subhuman
Humanity has built great cities and flown to the moon, but to Tsukamoto Shinya it remains as animalistic as ever. His cult classic The Iron Man (“Tetsuo,” 1989), featuring characters who slowly devolve (evolve?) into grotesque metallic beasts, presented the industrial city not as the victory over primitive life, but its re-creation or even apex.
Even in a film like Tokyo Fist (1995), a movie without any rusty sci-fi creatures, the brutally physical and animalistic side of human beings continued to rear its ugly head underneath a civilized veneer.
His new work, Gemini (the Japanese title can simply be translated as “twins”), loosely based on a Edogawa Ranpo story, pursues the same theme in what is a new territory for Tsukamoto– a story set in the late Meiji era (1868-1912) with no stop-motion photography and no industrial setting.
The conflict between the civilized and animalistic sides of humanity is here initially literalized in the class conflict between the rich and the poor. On the wealthy side, there’s Daitokuji Yukio (Motoki Masahiro), a former military doctor who has taken over a successful practice from his father. On the other, the destitute denizens of a nearby ghetto whom Yukio and his family disdain and often opt not to treat if they’re in the way of a more dignified patient.
What upsets this clan ensconced in their fortress-like home, putting in conflict that which had been separated, is the arrival of two figures. The first is Rin (Ryo), the beautiful wife of Yukio whose mysterious origins hint at the appearance of something foreign–one could call it desire–within this repressed family. The second is Sutekichi (again Motoki), Yukio’s long-lost rejected twin who, bent on revenge, first secretly causes the strange deaths of his parents and then pushes Yukio in the garden well in order to take over his life and his wife.
Tsukamoto uses color, acting, and make-up to establish the contrast between these worlds. While everything in the Daitokuji compound is dark and colorless, the ghetto is defined by shocking combinations of primary colors. Its liveliness is translated into the acting: while Motoki as Yukio is a study in repressed movement, as Sutekichi (before he takes over Yukio’s role) he is practically performing a primitively violent and erotic dance reminiscent of ankoku butoh, the “dance of darkness” which is here referenced in the person of the dancer-actor Maro Akaji, who plays Sutekichi’s adopted father.
Yet as in many of Tsukamoto’s films, it is the make-up and the costumes that does the most to define his world. If the Daitokuji’s generally wear the normal clothes of the Meiji era, those in the ghetto don an other-worldly combination of rags and industrial detritus. Their more “liberated” relation to physicality is emphasized by both their hard, rock-like hair styles and by Sutekichi’s scar, the mark that emphasizes his bodiliness and which must be hidden if he wishes to masquerade as Yukio.
In contrasting these two sides to human beings, Tsukamoto is not directing an epic battle in which one wins over the other: Yukio and Sutekichi are, after all, mirror images who, since it turns out that Rin had actually once been Sutekichi’s lover, love the same woman.
Moreover, neither the rich nor the poor come out as representing the positive values of “humanity.” Not only do all the rich women sport bizarre, flying-saucer shaped hair styles, but in a brilliant move, all the actors appear with barely any eyebrows. From the beginning, we are facing a world without the comfortable anchors of normalcy (a sense emphasized by the raucous music and deafening sound track) or even of the human face.
The final conflict between the two brothers, realized when Yukio, himself forced into an animalistic existence in the well, reemerges, is then not a means of resolving their oppositions, nor is it a case of one repressing the other. The two sides are, in effect, joined–not in harmony, but in a recognition of contradiction within the human self.
Like many of Tsukamoto’s movies, Gemini is a disturbing work, one which assaults the audience with extremes of style and sound. But it is not without its own version of hope. More than in his other work, Tsukamoto here seems to place some faith in love, here between Rin and her two men.
Yet it is still love that prompts this fratricidal fight, a love that can only be realized by wandering through hell itself. Even in humanity’s highest emotion, Tsukamoto still finds the primitive side of homo sapiens.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 16 September 1999, p. 9
Copyright 1999: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow