Doppelgangers are the stuff of horror and of comedy. It would be uncanny to see yourself as a stranger — the self’s own reflection as the Other — and yet being able to step outside yourself might provide you with some perspective about your own buffoonery. I suppose there’s another issue in all this. There’s the unstated question: would I be my own friend or my own worst enemy?
In It’s Me It’s Me, there’s a bit of comedy and a bit of terror involved in this tale of multiple doubles. (I guess technically that’d just be “multiples.”) When the film embraces its strangeness it’s like the Japanese cousin of Being John Malkovich, Michel Gondry’s odder movies, or a Franz Kafka story. (I guess technically that’d just mean work kind of like Japanese writer Kobo Abe.) Strangeness really is the film’s strength, and that winds up being its throughline.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s New York theatrical release.]
It’s Me, It’s Me (Ore Ore | 俺俺)
Director: Satoshi Miki
Release Date: May 25, 2013 (Japan), November 8, 2013 (New York)
Like in Kafka, Abe, Gondry, or Being John Malkovich, the strange conceits are taken as fact in the world, and these fact don’t necessarily need to be explained. Gregor Samsa wakes up as vermin, there are impossible structures to navigate, there’s an abundance of eccentricity, and there’s a door into John Malkovich’s head. Explaining these set-ups isn’t necessary in these kinds of stories. When effective, the weird stuff in these kinds of stories all play into larger metaphors. Explicitly a weird tale (for lack of a better phrase) might be about x-weird thing, but it’s really a story about identity, alienation, longing for childhood wonderments, and so on.
And so in It’s Me It’s Me, the doppelgangers and issues of confused identity just seem to show up one day, but they’re really used as a metaphor about the ramifications of the triggering event. The trigger: Hitoshi Nagano (Kazuya Kamenashi) steals another person’s cell phone and uses it to scam that person’s mom. The tone of weirdness is hinted at early on in the film with its absurd humor and wonky score. This is an odd world, but it looks so normal — the ideal setting for the weird tale.
One day, to Hitoshi’s bewilderment, he swaps mothers with the person who owned the stolen cell phone, and there’s mention of another doppelganger who’s much younger. (Obviously not in appearance but in demeanor.) Other doppelgangers are encountered along the way. They all look the same yet have their own distinct personalities, and Kemenashi does a fine job distinguishing each version of Hitoshi from the others through body language and line delivery. Even when they inhabit the same shot, I could tell which was which, and not just because of wardrobe. I read somewhere that Kemenashi plays 33 roles in the film, though many are brief.
Rather than conflict, the first half of It’s Me It’s Me is fueled by curiosity. It’s as if I was feeling out the contours of the weird world of the movie. There’s the potential for whimsy and complication in this set up, and writer/director Satoshi Miki delivers on both in doses throughout the story. One of my favorite scenes involves the first meeting of the three core doppelgangers in the film. Hitoshi’s like the baseline and the other two embody two opposite aspects of his inner life. It’s a comic exploration of Hitoshi’s narcissism. (Or perhaps solipsism? The trio calls its hangout Me Island. No man may be an island, but three of the same man? Sure, why not?) Mostly it’s just funny.
We watch little changes in Hitoshi’s routine. With a willing double, he can get someone else to work for him (at a place not unlike Best Buy) while he tries to woo an attractive older woman played by Yuki Uchida. She wants him for his photography, and Hitoshi doesn’t know what he really wants. Apart from his scam, he’s a somewhat passive character, though it may be just where he is in life. There’s only so much desire in an ambitionless 28 year old.
As the second half of the film kicks in, we hit a stage of mo’ me’s and mo’ problems. One of the core doppelgangers talks about the nature of multiplication across the world and the fear of deletion. We wind up in a weird thematic nightmare. By assuming one person’s identity, suddenly Hitoshi assumed other identities and those identities assume others. Copies upon copies, fakes on fakes, and since it’s all built on inauthenticity, there is no tacit sense of allegiance between facets of the self or the Other. There’s a larger ethical concern here, but it bleeds into epistemology and metaphysics so fundamentally that we can’t even trust ourselves. Mostly it’s just unnerving.
There’s a moment in It’s Me It’s Me where there seems to be justification for what triggered this world of multiplication. While it makes sense thematically, it didn’t really work for me as well as the weird stuff itself. That might be the difficulty in certain weird tales. With strange concepts and bizarre ideas, I don’t think there needs to be a explanation, whether it’s scientific or psychological. The best weird tales tend to explain themselves in equally weird ways.
It’s Me It’s Me was adapted from a novel by Tomoyuki Hoshino. The book won the Kenzaburo Oe Prize, a newish literary award in which the winners are handpicked by Kenzaburo Oe himself. (Oe is a Nobel laureate and one of Japan’s best post-war writers.) I wonder if Hoshino’s novel includes a similar note and if it reads better than it’s portrayed on film. That’s often the case. Not that what’s in the film is bad, of course. There’s a moral sense to it, I guess. It doesn’t have quite the punch I was hoping for, but maybe that’s just me.
Alec Kubas-Meyer: It’s Me It’s Me is a film that only works if you don’t think about it. The instant you consider the mechanics of Hitoshi’s multiplication, the narrative completely falls apart. But if you just let it happen, you’ll find that there’s something really compelling. I was reminded a bit of the Calvin & Hobbes bit where Calvin cloned himself, convincing some to go to school and others to do work before they eventually turned on him. But Calvin & Hobbes didn’t feature a Death Note-level obsession with “deletion” (the fact that everyone knows what “deletion” is and what it means is another one of those questions that shouldn’t be asked because it can’t be answered).
Like many films at Japan Cuts this year, it has a really weird tonal shift about halfway through. It seems like it’s going to be some sort of strange comedy before taking a really violent turn. The violence, by the way, is not great, mostly because of subpar sound effects. But Kazuya Kamenashi played his dozens of roles well, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. 73 — Good