A double life movie review

a double life japanese movie review

a double life movie by director yoshiyuki kishi

shock in art

A Double Life is based on the novel ‘True Stories’ by French artist Sophie Calle and a Japanese adaptation by Mariko Koike. Sophie would appear to subscribe to the cohort of artists that believe in the value of shock, and use it as a central part of their repertoire, but to what end? Shock certainly gets attention, and there’s a commercial and emotional value in attention, but once you’ve got attention, do you have an important message you need the world to know? Punk rock used shock, got attention, but then had nothing to say.  I feel that the movie Double Life suffers from the same problem – I was left wondering.. ‘so what… what did we learn here?’

stalking as a method of understanding existence

the premise

The starting premise of the book/movie is that it is possible to understand more about our existence on this planet by stalking a stranger. Stalking, according to the theory, allows the stalker to really understand the world from the stalked’s perspective. It’s a way, and maybe the only real way,  to gain true empathy. Sophie’s book chronicles her own stalking experiences. The movie’s central character, Tama, having become interested in Sophie’s work during her university philosophy course, is persuaded by her professor to base her Master’s thesis on a practical application of the theory. She is to pick a stranger, and then follow them and record everything they do. As part of the rules of the exercise, she isn’t allowed to interact with her subject at all.




the application and the consequences

The stranger she picks at random is a tall, attractive (and we later find out, extremely rich) man, Ishizaka. As she follows him it becomes clear that he is having an affair, and she watches voyeuristically as the affair is uncovered and the lives of the three parties to the affair unravel. In the meantime her own life unravels, as her live-in boyfriend, being appraised of Tama’s project, realises that maybe they don’t after all have much in common and eventually leaves. No big loss imho – the guy seems only to sleep, eat, fuck and draw. 

Voyeurism, and it’s damaging consequences, is a theme also explored in Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea.

stalking a stranger fills a void

What value does Tama get from her stalking? As mentioned, she is liberated from her relationship with her boyfriend, which frees up some space in her life for more satisfying relationships. We’re also told that the stalking itself fills a void in her that her ‘real life’ relationship wasn’t able to fill. And of course she gets to write her thesis. albeit after some negotiation over the privacy implications of it once her project is discovered by her victim.

There is an interesting parallel here with the trouble Sophie Calle had in one of her other real life projects. Sophie found an address book in the street and used it to reconstruct the life of the person who lost it. As maybe could have been anticipated, the person was not at all happy when he found out about the situation.

everyone is leading a double life

There seem to be three messages in the movie – two intended, I suspect, and one unintended.

  • Everyone has stuff going on, and is perhaps to some extent, living a Double Life. The victim of the stalking is having an affair, and Tama’s professor, in order to please his mother in her last two month’s of life, has hired an actress to play the role of his wife. Tama has her secret project. Tama’s boyfriend, by contrast, appears to have nothing going on. Nothing at all. Maybe his double life is his immersion in the world of gaming. 
  • There’s a value in stalking a stranger – it provides insights into what it is to be human, and an opportunity to feel real empathy. I’m not really convinced by this, and the movie didn’t change my mind.
  • And then there’s the message that I actually took away from the movie: people who think too much are unhappy. The professor lives a lonely existence, and ends the way of many philosophers and heroes in philosophy books. Tama lives an empty life, and finds that the only way she can fill the emptiness is by stalking strangers. Gotta get out more. Maybe do some exercise. Meet Up is great, actually. Human relationships, whilst not being the meaning of life, but they do make a meaningless existence bearable and often very enjoyable.

a double life movie review

And the movie itself? I didn’t love it. The film lacked beauty, the premise was unconvincing, and the lead character, played by Mugi Kadowaki was disappointing. On the plus side, there were some comic moments introduced by the nosey neighbour who found the meaning to her own existence in monitoring and imposing rules on others.

Also on the plus side was the background of director Yoshiyuki Kishi in documentary filmmaking. Much of the film, particularly the scenes where Tama was playing the voyeur, were shot in a voyeuristic style. The audience were almost complicit in the voyeurism by following, unseen, the voyeur. Some scenes in the movie were also shot unrehearsed, in an attempt to capture a raw quality. The sex scene between Tama and Ishizaka is surely an example of this. It captures the frantic, fumbling and messy passion of a first sexual encounter perfectly.

My rating, despite these plus points, only 4/10 I’m afraid.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Leave a comment below..

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