A Double Life (2016) [New York Asian Film Festival 2017]

A philosophy master student is pondering life and what her master thesis should be.  With the help of her teacher, she finds a subject and starts following perfect strangers to find the meaning of life.  As she does this, she lets her subject become an obsession and discovers a few things about herself.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Kishi, A Double Life is a slow exploration of life, its meaning, and why people do what they do in search of happiness.  Kishi takes the story of this young woman and makes it relatable in terms of her struggle, her questioning of life and its meaning.  However, the film has an issue with feeling slow, oh so slow.  It has an interesting subject, one that is expected to not be full of twists and turns, but rather a slow burn.  However, there is a big difference between slow burn and dull slowness.  This film has some sections that are very interesting and built in a way that keeps the attention, but it also has other parts where things slow down to a crawl and lose the attention of this viewer.  It has plenty good points, interesting sequences, and a subject worth digging deep into, but the slow parts are just slow enough to make one disconnect with the characters.  The characters are well written and have purpose in terms of understanding life and finding happiness, but they feel mostly like observers than active participants in their own story.  This applies to most of the characters, except when those that are being followed and observed.

The lead cast for the film composed of Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masaki Suda, and Lily Franky does well in terms of their acting and giving each character personality while keeping the tone of a certain sadness and longing for happiness and meaning in their lives.  Each of them gives nuanced, yet subdued performances helping keep attention to the film through its slower parts and making the viewer want to keep up with the film even once the story may have bored them with its pace and perhaps subject.  They create characters that are interesting to watch as they are very human and relatable on one front or another.

The film takes its subject and characters and places them in an almost consistently grey world with grey weather, adding to the feeling that life is not great for these people.  The look is quite deliberate and planned with only the occasional bursts of color to bring some scenes some extra attention and make them louder visually.  These colors, from the greyness to the colorful, are shot beautifully and the images are carefully composed and subsequently edited.

A Double Life is a film that shows extra attention to details and uses relatable, if sad, characters to pass its meaning of life message to the viewer.  While the film is interesting as a whole, it’s painfully slow in parts and this leads to the attention not being kept.  The acting is good and so is the cinematography, but these may not be enough to keep most viewers’ attention for its duration.