Gemini (1999) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: August 25, 2020
Audio: Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 84 minutes
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Tokyo: 1910. Dr. Yukio Daitokuji (Masahiro Motoki) is a former military doctor who has taken over a successful medical practice from his father. He appears to be living a charmed life: he is respected in the local community and is married to the beautiful Rin (Ryo). His only problem is that she suffers from amnesia and her past is unknown. But soon, his world begins to crumble. Both his parents die suddenly, killed by a bizarre, rag-wearing stranger. Yukio’s relationship with his wife worsens after he refuses to cure the inhabitants of a nearby slum. Then, one day, he comes face to face with the mysterious killer and a shocking and deadly secret is revealed. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Years before Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) brought international attention to Japanese horror cinema and the term “J-Horror” was coined, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) blew the collective minds of critics and audiences around the globe. He continued making genre-bending, (mostly) indie brain-melters for the next decade, including Hiruko the Goblin (Japanese: Yōkai Hantā: Hiruko; lit: Ghost Hunter: Hiruko, 1991), Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992), and Tokyo Fist (1995). When Ringu arrived, the market broadened and Tsukamoto, who was just about to embark on a series of acting roles in his friends’ films, challenged himself with a sumptuous costume drama entitled Gemini (Japanese: Sôseiji, lit. “Twins,” 1999). In 1998, Tsukamoto had made a comparatively low-key, body-horror-free, but no less existential drama in Bullet Ballet, but, at times, Gemini comes dangerously close to (shock, gasp) mainstream filmmaking. Don’t worry, though, “mainstream” Tsukamoto just means one of the world’s most interesting filmmakers had slightly more money at his disposal and a couple of producers peeking over his shoulder.
Gemini is based on the work of author Edogawa Rampo (real name Tarō Hirai), whose detective mysteries and horror stories were often compared to the work of Edgar Allan Poe (hence the phonetically similar pseudonym). As noted by author Pete Tombs in his Immoral Tales follow-up Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World (1997, St. Martin's Griffin), Rampo’s stories became popular following WWII and the adaptations began soon after, beginning with serialized entries from his Private Detective Kogorô Akechi (Rampo’s Sherlock Holmes inspired alter ego) and Shonen tanteidan (Boy Detectives) series. Horror adaptations started cropping up by the end of the ‘60s, fronted by Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of Malformed Men (Japanese: Edogawa Rampo Zenshū: Kyoufu Kikei Ningen, 1969), Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (Japanese: Kuro tokage, 1968), and Yasuzô Masumura’s Blind Beast (Japanese: Môjû, 1969). These films inspired renewed interest in the author’s work and, in turn, more adaptations, culminating in dozens of Rampo-themed releases throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s. Funnily enough, lead actor/former boy band star Masahiro Motoki had also portrayed Detective Kogorô Akechi in Rintaro Mayuzumi & Kazuyoshi Okuyama’s anthology feature, Rampo (or Ranpo, 1995). If you’re curious, author Tom Mes outlines some of the major changes made to Rampo’s original story in his book, Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto (2006, FAB Press). Apparently, the differences snowballed throughout production to the point that Tsukamoto claims that he almost forgot he had made an adaptation.
The combined effect of multiple influences and Tsukamoto’s half-hearted attempt at rebranding creates a vital fusion of style and storytelling. In lesser hands (or even Tskukamoto’s hands at an earlier point in his career), Gemini might have been a disconnected patchwork of Gothic romance, kabuki costume melodrama, Rampo’s perverse and twisty narrative devices, frenetic violence, social commentary, and poetic horror. Tsukamoto’s idiosyncratic artistry and wicked sense of humor that tie the frenzied aberrancy and the melancholic calm into one, fully cohesive whole. The shaking cameras and jagged editing of some sequences (similar to those seen in the Tetsuo films) beautifully contrast the stillness of others, while trademarked oddball touches, such as the entire cast having their eyebrows blotted out with make-up and Chu Ishikawaa’s industrial-techno influenced score (see the Audio section for more), ensures that Gemini fits firmly within Tsukamoto’s canon. He even flavors his visual class war with a subtle hint of body horror; though, of course, nothing as in-your-face as Tetsuo’s massive drill phallus (in Iron Man, Mes also points out that Tokyo Fist and Gemini are structurally almost identical in his book).
Gemini was previously available in North America on DVD via Image Entertainment and was presented in slightly zoomed anamorphic 1.78:1 video. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray represents the first HD availability of the film on home video. The 1.85:1 transfer was culled from the original film negative, though MM doesn’t specify their scanning process. Tsukamoto, who acted as his own cinematographer (as he often does), wanted to really push the boundaries of color with Gemini, given his reputation for mechanical and monochromatic palettes (though it should be noted that Hiruko the Goblin and Tokyo Fist are very colorful movies). As such, the film is cordoned off into sections of color. Some interiors burn orange, daylight exteriors are bleached out to magnify red or blue highlights, and nighttime exteriors (which are most likely indoor sets) are saturated in rich lavenders and/or deep blues. The HD remaster boosts the appropriate colors without unintentional bleeding or weakening the harsh black shadows. Grain is even, though sometimes clumpy, due to some notable posterization effects and minor oversharpening. Fortunately, other oversharpening problems, namely haloes, are minimal and easily ignored. Print damage artifacts are limited to occasional white or blue dots and flecks.
Gemini is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio and its original 2.0 stereo sound. This is a stark track that emphasizes crisp dialogue and environmental mood, rather than incidental noise or realistic effects work. Clarity and dynamic range is prioritized over directional movement and the track is mostly successful from this particular standpoint. My only nitpick is the hiss heard over some of the dialogue, but this is not a constant issue. Tsukamoto’s favorite composer, Chu Ishikawaa, returned to supply Gemini’s atmospheric score. He combines electronic noises, industrial drums, and sampled layers in his usual fashion, offering the period piece its most modern touch alongside the editing choices. There are also mournful piano pieces that help set the tone for the more static sequences. I swear I recognize the haunting choral motif that is essentially the main theme, but I couldn’t figure out where from before I published this review.
Tsukamoto Shinya Does Ranpo (17:48, SD) – Listed as The Making of Gemini in the extras menu, this behind-the-scenes featurette was directed by none other than Takashi Miike.
Venice Film Festival 1999 Premiere (16:57, SD) – Promotional footage with the actors from the film’s VFF premiere.
Make-up demonstration (6:03, SD) – A short how-to lesson.
Behind-the-Scenes (20:09, SD) – A seven-part collection of raw footage from on set, theoretically shot by Miike and his crew.
Mondo Macabro preview reel
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.