Gemini / Soseiji (1999), by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto, is one of my favorite films of all time. On the one hand it is an intelligent and visually stunning period piece set during World War One. And on the other hand, it sparingly uses the conventions of the horror genre as a device to explore class and identity.
|Rin's amnesia sets in after washing
|Identical but for a birthmark and their experiences of class
Without giving away too much about Gemini, one of the most startling sequences is when Yukio becomes haunted by his own reflection. The audience sees that his image in the mirror wears a terrible grimace for a moment. On second glance his reflection corrects itself. He looks at his image in a window, then in a bowl of water, both naturally distorted, but even these upset him. In a poetic tone which foreshadows the knowledge of his twin, Yukio expresses the unease he feels, “Recently this house makes my skin crawl. Nostalgia, sadness... a shadowy fellow... sometimes our eyes meet... I can’t put it into words properly.” His face truly is haunting him--the same face with a different history is watching him.
Deleuze and Guattari would agree with Sutekichi's claim that amnesia does not exist. Deleuze and Guattari would explain the process that Sutekichi and Rin (the woman who mistakenly loves both men) went through by changing clothes and forgetting their identities as a false attempt at designification. The imposition of a dirty face on the slum dweller is not erased by washing and forgetting. A washed amnesiac cannot simply resignify their position in the class system. Instead, they suggest that through a process of remembering and learning about those on the other end of the class spectrum can that structure begin to be dismantled. The film story suggests that the slum history of Rin and Sutekichi are easily uncovered--just as the crime of the twin’s parents was eventually uncovered--but the true movement toward dismantling the class system occurs when Sutekichi confronts and transforms his brother.
Sutekichi's loss and subsequent recovery of his identity can be read as an allegory of colonialism: his rightful place in the family was denied him because of a mark on his skin--as is often the case in colonial encounters, when skin colour or some other mark is used as an excuse to deny the colonized equality. Ultimately, though, only when the one becomes the other, does the class system crumble. The slum dweller must have the potential to be privileged, and the colonizer the potential to be colonized (this is as far as I would take the colonial metaphor). When Yukio’s transformation is achieved at the end of the film, it is as a result of Sutekichi’s death. The binary is destroyed and a transformed unity left in the remains.
I would argue that Yukio’s identity was never fixed anyway. Just as the child in his mother’s care looks into her face and imagines he sees a coherent reflection of his own identity, so Yukio looked into the Lacanean mirror and saw Sutekichi. Sutekichi’s face resembling Yukio’s so exactly, but filled with knowledge and experience so different was irresistibly there for Yukio to absorb and, thus, for him to know himself more totally. In some necessarily incomplete way then, the fantasy of total self knowledge is embodied in one of the most underrated films of the decade.