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Three Thrillers from Tartan Video

Doppelganger (March 30/05)

Though Doppelganger features a seemingly foolproof premise - a man comes home one evening to find his double waiting for him - filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa nevertheless manages to screw it up, imbuing the movie with an oppressively slow pace and characters that aren't interesting in the least. Kôji Yakusho stars as Michio Hayasaki, an inventor whose latest creation - a device that will allow paralyzed men and women to regain some mobility - will surely bring him fame and fortune, though problems arise when his aforementioned doppelganger arrives (the double is loud and boorish, where Michio is quiet and reserved). Instead of allowing the story to unfold in a natural, organic manner, Kurosawa turns the film into an existential morality play - with the various characters questioning the very meaning of their existence (think Bergman, except with sporadic instances of graphic violence). As a result, Doppelganger quickly becomes an interminable experience - something that's exacerbated by a third act that's at least half-an-hour too long.

out of

Phone (February 24/05)

Phone is a typically baffling Asian horror flick revolving around a possessed cell phone and (surprise!) a creepy, long-haired little girl. Though the film is actually quite effective in its first hour - director Ahn Byong Ki infuses the proceedings with a hefty dose of style, peppering the story with some genuinely disturbing moments - Phone becomes progressively more and more difficult to follow, particularly as the movie begins to blur the line between reality and fantasy. It certainly doesn't help that the storyline is extremely reminiscent of Ringu's, with the central character a journalist investigating a mysterious death (which is later connected to the demonic cellphone). Not content to simply present the viewer with a ghost story, screenwriters Ahn Byong Ki and Lee Yu-Jin throw in a variety of utterly superfluous elements - including a pointless subplot featuring a psychopath and his obsession with the reporter. Had the film eschewed all these superfluous elements, it just might have been a creepy little flick - though as it is, that's certainly not the case.

out of

A Snake of June (April 3/05)

From Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the astoundingly incoherent Tetsuo, comes this equally insufferable story about a repressed married couple who find themselves under attack from a bizarre half-man/half-octopus type creature (and that's one of the more accessible aspects of the film!) Tsukamoto, who also wrote the screenplay, peppers A Snake of June with a variety of incomprehensible elements, as though he's daring viewers to actually sit through the entire thing. Making things worse is the atrocious blue-and-white cinematography, which becomes tiresome and annoying within the first few minutes of the film. Though Tsukamoto has plenty of experience behind the camera, the filmmaker's inept directorial choices and apparent hatred of conventional structure (or, heck, any kind of structure) effectively transforms A Snake of June into an unforgettably excruciating experience.

no stars out of

About the DVDs: Each of these films makes their North American debut courtesy of Tartan Video, who offers up crisp, clear transfers along with minimal extra features (behind the scenes featurettes, interviews, promotional materials and - in the case of Phone - an audio commentary).
© David Nusair