Before it overstretches itself, A Double Life is a poignant drama anchored by great performances and an impressive debut from director Yoshiyuku Kishi. However, in an ironic example of life imitating art, A Double Life struggles with balancing the two films it is trying to be, and loses its way in a muddle of philosophy.
As we follow Tama falling deeper into the lives of her subjects, Kishi keeps Mugi Kadowaki front and centre, ensuring we get her reaction to what she uncovers before we are ushered into the secrets she is now privy to. Stellar performances by her subjects make glimpses into these ‘double lives’ enthralling, even if the secrets uncovered aren’t exactly sensational. Lily Franky is particularly empathetic as Professor Shinohara, giving meaning to the smallest of glances. Although the lives of Tama’s subjects are compelling, Kishi never lets us forget that this is her story, and Kadowaki’s Tama is a masterclass in how a spectacular physical performance can defy language barriers.
Where A Double Life stumbles is the script. While the film largely tells its story visually, the intermittent monologues from Tama and her subjects are jarringly expositional, beating you over the head with the film’s message without managing to actually say anything definitive. That’s not to say that there isn’t truth and authenticity within A Double Life’s ideas on life, love and happiness, but the film ties itself up in knots trying to make sense of its own message.
Multiple viewings would likely offer clarity on the film’s ideas, and A Double Life is certainly breathtaking enough that it would be a pleasure to fall back into its world again and again. Sadly any insight is lost in the shuffle, and a great film is overshadowed by philosophical hand-wringing.
CAST: Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Lily Franky, Masaki Suda
DIRECTOR: Yoshiyuki Kishi
WRITER: Yoshiyuki Kishi
SYNOPSIS: Tama, a philosophy and psychology student, struggles to know much about herself and those around her. To complete her Masters, Tama begins following strangers closely for a few days, the thrill of the chase becoming addictive – until she finds herself too entangled in the webs of other people’s lives to pull herself out.