Shinya (TETSUO, TOKYO FIST) Tsukamoto’s newest film GEMINI was shown as part of the AFI Fest at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last night. I was fortunate enough to see it, so here’s a brief review.

GEMINI is Tsukamoto’s most polished work to date. More than any of his other films (even HIRUKO), GEMINI looks like it could be from a mainstream director. Not quite, since there are those frenzied close-ups of maggots and rats feeding on a dead corpse, but closer than his previous, more experimental films. It’s also Tsukamoto’s first period film, taking place in 1910 Japan.

Masahiro Motoki (the hustler in GONIN) plays Dr. Yukio Daitokuji, an extremely successful surgeon and decorated war hero (Army doctor) who leads a comforable life in a mansion with his elderly parents and beautiful, but distant wife. His wife, Rin, suffers from amnesia because of losing her family in a fire, and has no memory of her past. After both his parents die in mysterious ways, Yukio finds himself confronted with a grimy, almost subhuman twin of himself. He’s thrown into a well on the property (shades of THE RING!) and the twin assumes his cushy life, even crawling into bed with Rin. Keeping him alive on scraps of food, the twin slowly reveals his identity and connection to Yukio and the three-person drama that he has planned – is he trying to kill Yukio or teach him a lesson?

GEMINI is shot in gorgeous, vibrant tones of color and features set and costume design which seem authentic, but with small twists. For example, all of the protagonists have their eyebrows either shaven or covered with makeup & one character’s past and family are revealed to be a performance troupe, who always dress in multi-colored rags and wear white makeup that makes them resemble Noh performers. The music by Tsukamoto regular Chu Ishikawa is also distinguished, eschewing the usual industrial score (probably because of the period setting) for a mostly sedate – and quite beautiful – piano and strings score. There are, however, bursts of extremely loud and raucous chanting at appropriate moments in the film.

While trying not to give too much away, Tsukamoto’s latest is an outstanding, fascinating meditation on destiny, class conflict (a first for him!), love and duty, and gives the tired old doppleganger story a few new twists. Motoki is amazing in his dual roles and the tall, lanky actress who plays Rin (I think she’s simply called Ryu) brings both a fragile grace and a frenzied, animal intensity to her performance. You’ll know what I mean when you see the film – suffice to say that, like in TOKYO FIST, the characters do not turn out to be what you think they are at the beginning of the film. Come to think of it, GEMINI echoes both the love triangle of TOKYO FIST and the brotherly themes of TETSUO II. I think it’s his most technically accomplished movie, probably his most accessible one and certainly one of his best (but then again, aren’t they all?).

Tonight at AFI: Chen Kaige’s THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN.

Marc Walkow

Review: Shinya Tsukamoto’s GEMINI