Despite my enduring love for the work of Shinya Tsukamoto -- in my view one of the most consistently challenging and rewarding film makers in the world -- there haved been, until recently a pair of his films which I had never seen in their entirety. One is Tetsuo II, the other Gemini. The Tetsuo title remains on the 'to watch' list but thanks to a recent ultra low cost Japanese reissue of Gemini on DVD I have finally been able to cross that one off of the list.
Adapted from a short story by Edogawa Rampo Gemini is one of only two work-for-hire projects Tsukamoto has accepted over the course of his career. Radically different from his early output Gemini came as a surprise to many fans at the time but in retrospect, with his more recent output in mind, the film makes far more sense. Rampo and Tsukamoto seem a natural, even an obvious fit now, both of them embracing a certain formal elegance and belief in the beauty of the grotesque.
A tale of sibling rivalry gone horribly wrong Gemini stars Masahiro Motoki as Yukio Daitokuji, a doctor who built a glowing reputation for treating wounded soldiers during the war despite his own unspoken feelings that much of his work in that time was simply wasted effort. Daitokuji lives in his magnificent family estate with his parents and young, amnesiac bride Rin -- discovered on the banks of a nearby river -- blissfully untouched by the poverty rampant in the surrounding, post-war countryside.
Everything in Daitokuji's life appears perfect on the surface, an impression he has worked hard to maintain. But a plague has broken out in the region, he is swamped with patients, and resentment is building among the local populace due to the priority he gives to treating the wealthy and his disdain for the poor. There is tension between his parents and Rin, whom they regard as little more than a homeless wastrel, and a shadowy figure has been spotted lurking in the garden, a figure dear old mom seems to know more about than she's saying.
By the time Daitokuji learns the truth about the figure it is far too late. The figure is his identical twin brother, abandoned in the local slums at birth due to a disfiguring birthmark, returned to take his revenge. Father is killed, Daitokuji thrown down a dired out well, and the brother takes his place.
In many ways Gemini marks a significant turning point for Tsukamoto. Until this point of his career all of his films -- Hiruko the Goblin excepted -- were driven at elast to some degree by the propulsive aesthetics of Tetsuo and his experimental theater work. Gemini is where Tsukamoto first dove headlong into character work, and that experience clearly marked his subsequent output. While the film still clearly showcases the auteur's fixation with body horror -- the casual insertion of war amputees in the waiting room stands out strongly -- it also shows him experimenting to greater degrees than ever before with light, texture and subtle effects to create mood, the general absence of eyebrows throughout proving surprisingly unsettling.
The Japanese DVD is quite strong, with a solid, anamorphic transfer and excellent English subtitles. Yes, there are other options out there but with this reissue currently going for a mere ten bucks it's hard to imagine better value for money.