“Nostalgia, sadness, a shadowy fellow…sometimes our eyes meet…”
Based on the novel, Soseiji, by Edogawa Rampo, Tsukamoto has taken quite the detour with this period piece. As one can surmise from the title the film deals with twins. Yukio and Sutekichi – one brother born into wealth and success, the other into poverty and violence. Stylistically, it is Tsukamoto’s most restrained cinematic effort with minimal distraction from the characters and their turmoil; a genuine character study sans bombasticism…mostly.
The young and successful Yukio seems to have everything in life: wealth, a prominent reputation, and a beautiful wife, Rin. Rin is afflicted with a form of amnesia; she cannot remember where she came from. His parents disapprove of Rin because of her hazy and probably questionable background. He is utterly trusting and sympathetic, curious but never doubtful of her confidences, more inclined to have her forget her troublous past and focus on the present. The region is overrun with plague and Yukio is criticized for prioritizing the affluent. Yukio confesses to his father that he has often considered euthanasia for mortally ill patients; he father does not think it a wise technique to employ. His father holds him to a promise, “You’ll never again make decisions on human life. That’s god’s prerogative.” It is, of course, rather predictable that Yukio is faced with just such a decision. It soon becomes clear that he has an intense antipathy for the slums which at first, appears to be related to the plague which seemingly emanates from that area. Later, it is apparent that his resentment is much more akin to fear and prejudice. He reasons with Rin at one point, “They’re just like that, those people. From birth.”
There’s a bizarre odour emanating from the house. Yukio’s father dies suddenly one night, then his mother. A strange figure appears briefly resembling Yukio but feral. Yukio is absent-minded, distracted by his work and the mysterious Rin. He is walking in his garden one day when he is attacked and pushed down a barren well. The figure is above him looking down; he says he is his brother, Sutekichi. What follows is a visually-arresting editing scheme that carries to the final frame.
The ending contains a wondrous reversal of character for Yukio and Sutekichi and perhaps, in a way, this is predictable, but it is also logical. It’s also insightful because it links man’s animalistic nature (Tsukamoto’s favourite theme) much more directly. The entire film plays with contrasts, not only with style and approach but with symbolism and tone. The set design and costumes are top-notch. The quiet bluish hues of Yukio’s serene home and the intense earthy tones of the slums are yet another of Tsukamoto’s colourful contrasts. There are missteps however, such as when the film intercuts between Yukio being trapped in the well bemoaning his situation and Sutekichi making love to Yukio’s wife – very heavy-handed execution, something one would expect from the likes of Eli Roth. Tsukamoto was never known for his subtlety though and every Tsukamoto film, though often inconsistent quality-wise, is interesting to watch.