“There will never be another you” goes the jazz standard, but is it true? Have you ever thought that your spitting image might be wandering the world somewhere? What if you encountered you on the street? I would make fast tracks in the opposite direction.
The phenomenon of bilocation — or the same person appearing in two or more places at the same time — is a variation on this queasy fantasy, involving as it does a splitting rather than two separate versions. It is found in the biographies of saints, as well as the novels of horror writers.
One of the latter, by Haruka Hojo, was the inspiration for “Bilocation,” Mari Asato’s shocker about a woman with a bilocation that is capable of interfering with and perhaps even ending her life.
This twist is not according to the traditional religious/mystical script, but it does lend itself to horror, a genre that in Japan has exhausted itself with endless variations of the ghost-with-a-grudge formula that became popular with the “Ring” films. There are no ghosts in “Bilocation,” but there is an ingenious story that goes beyond easy scares to unsettling speculations on the fragility of identity. The splitting that creates the film’s bilocations resembles the splitting (or, more accurately, the disintegration) that leads to insanity.
The heroine, Shinobu Takamura (Asami Mizukawa), is an aspiring artist who has recently married a warm-hearted man (Yosuke Asari) who is nearly blind. One day, as she pays for her purchases at a local grocery, she is caught by a vigilant clerk for apparently trying to pass a phony ¥10,000 note — and is shown a recent security camera video of a Shinobu look-alike paying with a note of the same serial number.
Instead of hauling her to the station for further questioning, a brusque police detective named Kano (Kenichi Takito) takes her to a decaying mansion (in the original, not Japanese-English, sense of the word) where she meets others who have had something similar to her disturbing experience.
Iizuka (Kosuke Toyohara), a bearish man with a manner between a therapist and a funeral director, tells Shinobu that she and her new acquaintances are victims of bilocations, entities who have split from the “originals” in a moment of emotional turmoil and now have their own will and purpose. They are also unaware of their status as bilocations, convinced instead that their “original” is a fake they must thwart — or destroy.
Under Iizuka’s leadership, the small band of “originals,” which includes a hot-tempered college student (Kento Senga of the pop group Kis-My-Ft2), a feisty housewife (Wakana Sakai) and Kano, whose own crazed bilocation scuppered his once-promising career, have been collectively battling for their sanity and lives. They are later joined by Kaga (Sho Takada of the Johnny’s Jr. pop troop), a cool-eyed teen who always wears a black neck-warmer nearly up to his nose and seems to know more about bilocations than even Iizuka.
I’m not sure if “horror,” at least in its conventional sense, is the best word to describe the ensuing action, which ranges from the smash-mouth violent to the skin-crawlingly bizarre. The dilemma of Shinobu and the others has its roots less in the supernatural than their own psychologies. It’s as if instead of having bad dreams and cold sweats, they find themselves living a nightmare they inadvertently created themselves and can’t escape.
Asato, a veteran maker of low-budget shockers, directs this material with a straight-faced sincerity, as well as with a welcome terseness and economy. The film may go right up to the edge of absurd, but it seldom drags. She is also the right director for a story that views its female characters as real women with normal lives, not designated victims whose main attribute is their glass-shattering scream.
Mizukawa plays Shinobu, in both her incarnations, as a millennial everywoman whose reactions to the strangeness around her, from gap-mouthed astonishment to grim determination, are appealingly natural. Other performances, however, are overwrought to various degrees, with Takada’s mysterioso act as Kaga serving as a sort of counterweight. But given the characters’ desperate life-or-death situations, Zen calm is not to be expected.
Kudos should also go to whoever designed the Siamese-twin dolls that greet Shinobu when she enters the mansion. Decadently stylish and creepily sad-eyed, they sum up the film’s message: The human mind can split and crumble, but it can’t truly divide. We’ve got to live with ourselves, however many faces look back at us in the mirror.