Color, 1999, 83 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryo, Yasutaka Tsutsui
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 NTSC), Warner (Japan R2 NTSC), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Golden Scene (HK R3 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Though not overtly supernatural, Gemini is a skin-crawling Gothic horror film packed with enough colorful, nightmarish imagery to send most Western critics into fits. Adapted by maverick director Shinya Tsukamoto (Tokyo Fist and the Tetsuo films) from a novel by Edogawa Rampo, the simple narrative is broken apart into hallucinatory fragments peppered with flashbacks and horrific subliminal visuals; the results are more accessible and linear than Tetsuo but no less effective.
Financially secure doctor Yukio (Motoki) is shaken when his family members begin dying one by one. After the mysterious and gruesome death of his father, Yukio's mother is literally frightened to death by a shadowy, razor-toothed intruder bearing a large, snake-like birthmark on one of his legs. Meanwhile a plague ravages the nearby slums, with Yukio reluctant to admit any of the impoverished residents into his home for treatment. His beautiful amnesiac wife, Rin (Ryo), tries to convince Yukio that the slum people are human, too, but he finds his views following those of his elitist father. One sunny afternoon Yukio is suddenly hurled down into the family well by the intruder, who boards up the top of the well and occasionally tosses in food scraps for Yukio to eat. The sinister man cleans himself up and turns out to be almost the identical double of Yukio, even to the extent that he takes the doctor's place in the marriage bed. Gradually Yukio's physical and mental abilities are affected by his confinement, and only after the avenging stranger reveals his true agenda does Yukio come to understand the horrific consequences of his family's actions.
A creepy little chamber piece, Gemini retains its tight grip on the viewer's imagination right from the opening moments which, in chilling flash-frame images, depict rats gnawing on the rotting, orange-lit remains of a dead animal. The soundtrack is no more comforting, with Tsukamoto offering one of the most manipulative and gut-wrenching aural landscapes since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most of the performers remain confined to one-note roles, but Motoki, the pretty-boy thug from the marvelous Gonin, shines in his dual lead roles and slips from one mental state to another with convincing ease. Tsukamoto also makes striking use of color design with the present day sequences usually drenched in gray and blue while the hyperactive slum flashbacks vibrate with eye-popping orange and red. The visual aesthetic also works in tandem with the film's unsettling social message, which in retrospect makes it a fine precursor to 2019's Parasite if you feel like programming a double feature.
Warner's 2000 Japanese DVD of Gemini (featuring optional English subtitles) made for a solid way for many English-speaking viewers to make this film's acquaintance if they didn't have a chance to catch one of its specialty one-off screenings. The transfer was excellent for the time and featured a wonderfully aggressive and enveloping Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track guaranteed to set your nerves on edge. The disc also includes one full Japanese trailer, two short teasers, cast and crew bios, and a series of making-of featurettes focusing on behind the scenes rehearsals, the make up and production design, and the film's presentation at the 1999 Venice Film Festival. A cheaper, bare bones Hong Kong release (Region 3) offers a drastically downgraded transfer but made for a workable option for curious, budget conscious viewers. The film also made its belated U.S. debut on DVD from Image Entertainment in 2006, featuring the same transfer and going out of circulation quite quickly.
In 2020, Tsukamoto's film made its Blu-ray debut from Mondo Macabro sporting a solid HD transfer that makes for a welcome improvement in the usual ways you'd expect from two subsequent decades of technological advances. Those heavy warm colors look great here freed from the limitations of NTSC, with nice saturation throughout; as with most Japanese-sourced transfers, you may want to knock the brightness down a notch or two depending on how you prefer black levels to appear. The DTS-HD MA Japanese 2.0 track (with optional English subs) is still a powerhouse and decodes beautifully to surround with lots of rear channel activity throughout; just be prepared to disturb the neighbors if you crank this up loud. The extras prepared for the film's Japanese release are ported over here, most substantially a making-of featurette (17m48s) crammed with fun production footage and spontaneous coverage of the director and cast at work. Also included are the Venice Film Festival premiere reel (16m57s), the archival makeup demonstration (6m3s), a raw reel of behind the scenes footage (20m9s), and the Japanese trailer, plus the standard Mondo Macabro promo. As usual for the label, the disc was first released directly via its site in a limited 1,000-unit red case edition with a 16-page booklet featuring an essay by Tom Mes.
Updated review on August 16, 2020.