A slow burn of a film, A Double Life at first seems to be about the vagaries of a young girl, trying to find meaning in her life. Inspired by the work of French artist Sophie Calle, True Stories, it becomes instead a thoughtful and moving exploration of privacy, connection and compromise.
Tama (Mugi Kadowaki) is a post graduate student with a thesis about existence in contemporary Japan. She lives an unremarkable life with boyfriend Takaya (Masaki Suda). Her professor (Lily Franky) suggests that, rather than survey 100 random people as is traditional for a philosophy thesis, she should choose one person at random and follow them for no reason. By observing one person, she can better understand what gives life meaning.
Tama chooses Ishikara (Hiroki Hasegawa), a neighbour and editor with a large house and picture perfect wife and child. She quickly learns that his life is not what it seems and soon becomes obsessive in her study of him, alienating Takaya. Her professor has given her one rule – don’t interact with your subject – but she finds it increasingly difficult not to become a part of the story that is unfolding.
Interwoven with this is a seemingly casual narrative about Tama’s professor. We see him receive a letter that his mother is dying. He visits his mother in hospital with his wife and has a photo taken of the three of them. He delights at the lunch he unwraps at work. All seem incidental but our observation of him is as important as Tama’s tailing of her neighbour. We see fragments, we miss much, just as she does, but from this we build a picture of a person.
A gently-paced story, like Tama, it takes us a while to realise what it is that we are being shown. There is a simple intertwined motif about watching and seeing and knowing that we, as viewers, are complicit in. We are also, like Tama, perhaps just as oblivious as to the part we are playing. The final scenes bring a sense of closure that is both ambiguous and satisfying.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.