Double Life (Nijû seikatsu)

It always feels like somebody’s watching.

(2016) Drama (Star Sands) Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masaki Suda, Lily Franky, Aoba Kawai, Yukiko Shinihara, Shohel Uno, Yukino Kishii, Naomi Nishida, Setsuko Karasuma, Ryuju Kobayashi. Directed by Yoshiyuki Kishi


There is a certain thrill to observing other people unseen. There is an implied intimacy, seeing people as they truly are when they are sure nobody else is watching. That is how they reveal what makes us human – or at least so goes the theory as voiced by noted French photographer and writer Sophie Calle.

Tama Shiraishi (Kadowaki) is a grad student working on her master’s thesis. She lives with her boyfriend videogame designer Takuya (Suda) in a modest apartment in suburban Tokyo. They do have morning sex from time to time but they are distant from one another, showing little affection for each other. It can be chalked up to the business of their lives; Takuya is up against some looming deadlines for his upcoming game, Tama is consumed with her thesis on the meaning of being human which isn’t going very well.

Her professor, Shinohara (Franky) is a feared presence around the philosophy department of the university but he is soft-spoken and surprisingly helpful to Tama. When she proves to be too shy to distribute a questionnaire to 100 people, Shinohara – seeing the Calle book on his desk – is inspired to suggest that Tama observe a single person without their knowledge and use her observations as the basis of her thesis.

Tama chooses Ishizaka (Hasegawa), a neighbor who seems to be perfectly happy. A successful book publisher, he lives with his gorgeous wife and adorable daughter across the street from Tama – she can watch them playing together from her balcony. However, as she tails her subject, she discovers to her surprise that he is having a torrid affair which includes some rather public lovemaking.

The more she tails her subject the more emotionally involved that she gets. As she later describes it, she feels an empty part in herself beginning to get filled up. Her late nights and exhaustion lead Takuya to suspect that it is she having an affair and when Ishizaka’s wife discovers his infidelity, the fallout will not only affect his family but Tama and her boyfriend as well.

This is a film that takes a while to get rolling but once it does the filmmakers do a good job of keeping the interest of the audience. There is a certain cultural element to this – Japanese eroticism is somewhat different than Western eroticism – that makes even ordinary, normal activities seem sexual. The fact that the exterior shots take place in an overcast wintry gloom tends to heighten the feeling of repression as the characters bundle up against the cold.

Kadowaki does a stellar job here playing a character who has difficulty relating to people and prefers not to be the center of attention. Her oversize glasses and frumpy dress make the actress look somewhat plain although she is far from that in reality. However, it suits the character well here as few people give her a second glance including the people she is tailing.

The movie feels a bit long and while it is based on a novel by Mariko Kolke there is an almost soap opera vibe at times. There is a subplot about Professor Shinohara coping with his mother’s final days in the hospital with a new girlfriend (Kawai) which is a complicated situation in itself that tends to convolute the film and pull attention from the main story.

Kishi utilizes handheld camera work during most of the stalking sequences and it does wear on the viewer after awhile since the bulk of the movie is spent watching Tama stalk her academic prey. It is only when the two finally confront each other and Tama admits to some of her own inner demons that the movie gets a real emotional spice to it.

Hamlet’s famous line “To be or not to be” is utilized in several different ways, including in a Japanese play that Tama attends. The point of her thesis is what it means to be human and the idea is that Tama hasn’t really figured that out yet and with the movie opening with a suicide attempt – even though it is dark and chaotic you should be able to figure out who is trying to do themselves in – the “not to be” gets its share of attention as well.

Like many of the films at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, there seems to be an infusion of new blood and exciting young directors coming out of Asia right now and Kishi is one of them. While the elements of soap opera and extraneous plot devices do hold the movie back, there is at least enough substance here to make this a worthwhile film to seek out to perhaps give some insight into your own humanity – and how well it would stand up to the scrutiny of constant observation.

REASONS TO GO: There is the allure of voyeurism. The wintry tone of the cinematography enhances the feeling of the film. The theme of being or not being is utilized here better than in most films.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie overstays its welcome and is a little bit too close to a soap opera. The stalking scenes contain a little too much handheld camera work for my comfort.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and some brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature for Kishi and the first lead role in a feature for Kadowaki.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
NEXT: With Prisoners

Remote Control

It’s just a job. Any trained monkey can do it. I sit in a room and watch security monitors. That’s it. I don’t even have to get my ass out of my chair other than to head to the vending machine to grab some Mountain Dew.

I’m not even anywhere near the place. Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital is in rural Maryland. I’m in Vancouver, part of a security company that monitors large abandoned buildings in the hopes of keeping out squatters and vandals for the property owners until such time as they either restore, rebuild or demolish. Since the State of Maryland is responsible for Collingwood, I doubt if any of the three are going to happen anytime soon.

The State installed our security cameras after a TV crew disappeared while filming there in 2011. An extensive search of the building and grounds failed to find anything of them except for traces – a cooler full of rotting sandwiches, camera and audio equipment and a woman’s shirt. They haven’t turned up a trace of their bodies.

Night after night we watch, myself or other employees. We all rotate on different buildings – that way we keep fresh eyes on things. Tonight I was assigned Collingwood. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Sometimes weird shit happens – cameras blank out for no reason then just turn back on as if nothing had happened. It’s annoying as fuck. Also there are instances of pixilation in the feed. Digital distortions – ghosts in the machine my supervisor calls them. We’ve repaired and replaced the cameras there several times over with no improvement. We think there might be some sort of magnetic rock vein in the bedrock, but so far nothing tangible has been turned up.

Usually there are a lot of people here at night – that’s when we do most of our monitoring. However today was a little different. We’re moving into a new building near Stanley Park which suits me just fine. However not all of the stations were moved in time – some sort of scheduling fuck-up – so I’m alone in the old building. They haven’t moved the day shift’s stuff there yet – they won’t until the weekend – so I’m thankfully not in an empty office – but it’s still kind of creepy.

I stretch, looking at the various camera positions. All quiet on the Western Front. Part of me wants to find a place to curl up and sleep but if someone discovered me I’d be fired on the spot. So I just stretch and yawn and drink Mountain Dew, eating Snickers bars and Hot Pockets and texting my girlfriend on my iPhone. A 20th century job for a 21st century life.

I’m looking down at a particularly racy nude pic she’s sent me (she’s lonely, the little minx) when my eye is caught by some movement on the edge of my vision. I look up at the monitors. Nothing. Nothing on Camera 1. Nothing on Camera 2. Nothing on Camera 3. Nothing on Cameras 4,5,6,7,8….hell nothing on any cameras.

I stare for a bit then go back to perving on my baby’s picture. Then movement again. Like an itch I can’t scratch. I look up annoyed. Nothing. I keep my eyes on the monitors. Nothing happens. Nothing moves. Finally with a sigh, my girlfriend awaits me. I look down.

A door slams shut. Not like it was shut slowly – it was slammed. I saw it. No breeze through the hallway would have shut a door like that. It was like an angry child flinging the door shut. No way that was air pressure. I saw it.

I peer at the cameras. I see nobody. Nothing. Some digital distortions start to pop up. Then dozens . Then hundreds. I could hardly see the interior of Collingwood there were so many. Then, abruptly they were gone.

Everything was quiet again but I had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like this was the calm before the storm.

I hate it when I’m right. All the doors on all the cameras started to open and shut, open and shut, banging against the jams. They’re flapping like wings on some hideous bird. I stand up, my chair pushed back and rolling away. I think I might have even screamed. I’m not one to believe in ghosts but what else could be causing this? I go to my alert phone to call my boss and the line is dead. Figures. Just my luck that it’s going to get worse.

I saw them. Hideous humans, or maybe once they were human but they aren’t that now. Impossibly thin and spindly with legs that went on and on. Dead black eyes. Mottled skin. Open mouths, impossibly wide. And teeth. And teeth.

One comes right up to the camera I’m looking at, grinning at me maniacally. The eyes are wild and knowing, impossibly wise and incredibly old – and evil beyond measure. He reaches out and I am a deer in the headlights, unable to move. Unable to scream. My phone drops to the floor from nerveless fingers.

Hand reach through the monitor and grab me. Now I find my voice but it’s too late. I’m dragged closer to the monitors, closer and closer. I struggle, I dig in my heels but these hands are incredibly strong. He drags me closer and closer to the edge. I scream again in despair. I don’t want to go to Collingwood. I don’t want to go there. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. Mommyyyyyyyyyyyy and it all goes dark.