NYAFF Film Review: ‘A Double Life’

Have you ever wondered what it means to be human? Director Miwa Nishikawa attempts to answer that question in A Double Life (Nijû seikatsu) through the lens of a curious female Japanese graduate student and the path she chooses to tread upon in order to find her version of an answer.

Faced with a daunting task of trying to answer a question humans have been asking for millennia for her thesis, Tama (Mugi Kadowaki), a graduate philosophy student, is pushed by her professor, Mr. Shinohara (Lily Franky), to seek a new method of finding out why exactly human beings exist and what that existence really means.

Per his advice and his lectures about French writer Sophie Calle, a French author and artist who used her own experiences of tailing others in her work, Tama decides to tail her neighbor, Ishizaka (Hiroki Hasegawa), who is a successful book editor and publisher with a wife and child (It is interesting to note that Calle’s book, “True Stories,” was the inspiration behind the novel written by Mariko Koike, which the film is based upon).

Somehow, on her first tailing experience, Tama manages to uncover Ishizaka’s affair, and watches as Ishizaka and his mistress groan and moan in a dark alleyway. Elated with this discovery, she decides to continue tailing him, stepping into his life as an observer and watching it fall apart as his wife figures out he’s been seeing someone. This ends off setting off a horrific chain of events which finally leads to Ishizaka realizing Tama has been tailing him all along.

While this is all happening, Tama has been putting off her own personal life, unwilling to reveal the truth about her assignment to her live-in boyfriend, Takuya (Masaki Suda), a game designer working his butt off in an attempt to put out his new game. When push comes to shove and she finally confesses to the reason she comes home so late, he does not understand why she wants to continue and asks if they really belong together.

In some ways, Tama may be a hard person to connect with, which can explain why the film does not resonate so strongly as it should to some. A lot of people can probably say they have wondered about the meaning of human life, but the numbers definitely dwindle when it comes to looking for the answer using Tama’s methodology. In the end, she succeeds in formulating her own opinion and perspective by putting herself in another’s shoes and taking a slice of their life and making it her own. Which means a lot, as she was trying to answer the question because she felt, in her words, empty on the inside with no goals in life.

The idea of basically stalking someone and finding out their secrets may be revolting, but Nishikawa manages to develop this “tailing” into someone more, into a form of discovery. In a lot of ways, the film’s strengths lie in its aptitude in showcasing how complicated a human life can be, and in A Double Life, it is easy to see that everyone has flaws and secrets within them, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes for no reason whatsoever.

We screened the film at NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2017 where it had its North American premiere.

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