A Double Life is a beautiful film, plain and simple. It is the first feature length directed by filmmaker Yoshiyuki Kishi; slowly paced, the film is the spellbinding story of a post-graduate student, Tama (Mugi Kadowaki), who is assigned by her professor (Lily Franky) to follow and report on the daily routine of a stranger (Hiroki Hasegawa) only to find he leads a double life. Set against the stunning backdrop of urban Japan, Kishi uses a subdued colour palette to create an atmosphere that, much like the performances, maintains the muted quality of the story.
Kishi somehow managed to capture the very essence of Japan into a feature length film. Through gentle tones and hand-held filming, Kishi brought the audience along for the ride, allowing you to watch as Tamu observed, and truly feel the raw emotions on display in front of them.
Indeed, there is not one weak performance in the film. Kadowaki’s Tama shines as the directionless master’s student, whose questions about life’s greatest unknowns remain unanswered. Taking on the role of naïve voyeur, Tamu quickly finds the life addictive and soon becomes entangled in everyone else’s lives, neglecting to address the issues in her own; certainly she adopts her own double life. Kadowaki’s written dialogue is minimal, making her performance all the more impressive, marking her as all the more worthy of the ‘Best Actress’ award she has been nominated for.
“It is typical of Japanese cinema, but the best example of it”
She is aided immensely by a strong ensemble. Hasegawa beautifully depicts the dichotomous nature of a model family man, who is also having an affair. He successfully provides a much more nuanced antagonist than the character may have been in weaker hands, which makes for an even more intriguing storyline. Moreover, special mention needs to be made to Lily Franky’s performance as Tama’s enigmatic professor. The vulnerability and uncertainty he portrayed, both in regards to his dying mother and his ‘wife’, were unbelievably heart-wrenching to watch.
What really tied this all together was the way in which each of the sub-plots were interwoven to create a marvellous tapestry of melancholy, confusion and beauty. Not a single storyline felt out of place, and though the film may have seemed to start off slow, this was a necessary calm in which the groundwork for the culmination of the piece was laid. The whole film was a masterclass in timing and the subtleties of narrative tension.
The soundtrack deserves particular attention, Taro Iwashiro’s floating piano score pushes this already outstanding picture to a sublime level. It manages to evoke the feeling of a child being read to, whilst being more than capable of bringing a tear far too close to your eye. It is typical of Japanese cinema, but the best example of it.
In the film there is a line that Hasegawa says about a book, for it to be great there needs to be ‘something that makes the reader dive in and forget themselves’. Whatever that ‘something’ is, A Double Life certainly has it, because for 126 minutes the viewer is able to completely forget themselves as they delve into this world and become just as much a voyeur as the protagonist. A Double Life is a must see, and worthy of any and all accolades and awards it may be nominated for, and probably a whole lot more.
Maddie Andrews (@Mads_Andrews) & James Baxter-Derrington
Image: Yoshiyuki Kishi