Bilocation (Bairokeshon): Tokyo Review

The seeds of a contemplative story about suppressed instincts are undermined by a bloated and unsound plot.

Japanese helmer Mari Asato's thriller revolves around a struggling painter's engagement with her alter ego.

Call it the doubling of the double: Mari Asato's latest doppelganger-infested film made its bow at the Tokyo International Film Festival just days after the Asian premiere of Richard Ayoade's dark comedy about a meek man's tribulations when a brasher, braver version of himself appears and threatens to overwhelm his existence.

Not that the Japanese helmer -- whose biographical blurb highlights her studies under Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Penance, Real) should have anything to fear. Given her premise is as interesting as Ayoade's The Double: revolving around the appearance of deadly alter egos around individuals forced to suppress their instincts or desires, Bilocation could have become both an enigmatic horror movie and a nuanced exposition of how women could be driven to psychosis by patriarchal social norms.

Rather than highlighting these possibilities, Asato's adaptation of a Haruka Hojo novel has chosen to play up generic shock-and-awe visual tropes, a mish-mash of pseudo-scientific garble and a labyrinthine plot, which, in the final analysis, reveals gaping holes. Still, the polished technical values, the plentiful onscreen jolts and the presence of J-pop heartthrobs Kento Senga and Sho Takada should see the film securing a following when it eventually opens at home in January.

It's perhaps ironic that the characters played by Senga and Takada are somehow red herrings to Bilocation's narrative. Central to the story is actually Shinobu Kirimura (Asami Mizukawa), a young woman who, at the beginning of the film, is desperate in her attempts to finish a painting -- her last chance in proving her artistic worth. Just as she's on the edge of a breakdown, the doorbell rings -- and she finds at her doorstep Masaru Takamura (Yosuke Asari), a gentle, young blind man who has just moved into her tenement block to whom, after a credit sequence and a time lapse of months, she would find herself married.

Having moved to live in Masaru's flat -- a bright, tidy and pastel-colored equivalent to her cluttered and cramped dwelling upstairs -- Shinobu seemed to have found happiness in life; but soon the slight hints of her internal dissonance -- her instinctive habit of using her maiden name, her anxiety of meeting with her disapproving in-laws -- would find a manifestation in the appearance of an alter ego roaming her neighborhood, a presence she would discover through, in trademark J-Horror style, grainy surveillance video.

And as Shinobu is inducted into a group of fellow double-pestered individuals, Bilocation's promise of a cracking psychological thriller seems complete: With the introduction of Mayumi Kadokura (Wakana Sakai), whose double appeared after she brought her career to a halt to attend to her sickly son, and Takashi Kano (Kenichi Takito), a detective constantly harangued and assaulted by his superiors, the story seems geared toward a description of struggles for individuals whose IDs have seemingly returned to break the moral and social norms confining them to act against their wishes.

Bilocation takes a difficult turn, however, when Asato begins to layer logic onto the story: As the group, led by the enigmatic (and seemingly devoid-of-double) Iizuka (Kosuke Toyohara), explains the specifics under which these "simultaneously existing incarnations" could exist and the strategies with which they could be contained and decimated, the film slides into an increasingly slippery footing.

And with Shinobu's war with herself distracted further by the smoldering appearance and vanishing of other dopplegangers -- including that of Senga's character, Takumi Mitarai, whose double's presence and murderous actions aren't really explained -- Bilocation hits the buffers, as Iizuka's explanation about one aberrant episode only spawning a dozen others. Perhaps eyeing possible popularity with a female audience -- indeed, the Tokyo premiere was attended mostly by young women very keen to wave at Senga and Takada on stage -- Asato's screenplay is actually dominated by a love-conquers-all message, a move that reverts the contemplations of gender-specific social structures in life. It's an unfortunate retreat to hackneyed positions that undermine Bilocation's potential power to subvert rather than just shock.

Special Screenings, Tokyo International Film Festival
Production Company: "Bilocation" Film Partners
Director: Mari Asato
Cast: Asami Mizukawa, Kento Senga, Sho Takada, Kenichi Takito
Producer: Tsuyoshi Kobayashi
Executive Producer: Shinichiro Inoue
Screenwriter: Mari Asato, based on the novel by Haruka Hojo
Director of Photography: Yuta Tsukinaga
Sound Director: Fumihiko Yanagiya
International Sales: Kadokawa Corporation
In Japanese
119 minutes