Japan Cuts Review: It’s Me, It’s Me (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for JAPAN CUTS: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema which runs from July 11-21. For more information of this film series visit www.japansociety.org and follow Japan Society Film on Twitter at @js_film_nyc.
Like the apt pairing of Okita Shuichi and Yoshida Shuichi for the former’s film adaptation of the latter’s work to come up with A Story of Yonosuke, so it is fitting that it is Miki Satoshi who has adapted Hoshino Tomoyuki’s 2010 novel of the same name. As its title suggests, It’s Me, It’s Me is a weird tale on identity, impersonation, scams, consciousness, and the perplexity of contemporary (urban) living. Right smack in the middle of this world is J-pop idol Kamenashi Kazuya (of the band KAT-TUN) playing—as the end credits hilariously point out—no less than thirty-three different roles both major and minor, mostly male but also a few female characters.
As its title suggests, It’s Me, It’s Me is a weird tale on identity, impersonation, scams, consciousness, and the perplexity of contemporary (urban) living.
The film gets its Japanese title from the term ore-ore sagi (俺俺詐欺), which means ‘it’s me, it’s me scam.’ Ore-ore sagi is more specifically a phone scam that involves the caller pretend to be a family member or relative to the (often elderly) receiver by declaiming ‘It’s me, it’s me,’ explain that s/he is in a financial pinch due to an accident or otherwise, and so bilks money from the receiver. The multiplication of Kamenashi’s character Nagano Hitoshi kicks off unexpectedly when a salaryman strangely sits right next to him in an otherwise empty fast food restaurant and speaks of quitting his job to reset his life to his friend. In the process of the salaryman eating and conversing, his cell phone falls into Hitoshi’s food tray. Impulsively yet craftily, Hitoshi gets up and leaves with his tray with the salaryman’s cell phone, and proceeds to ‘it’s me, it’s me’ scam the man’s mother for nearly one million yen. Wracked with surprise and horror at his audacious behaviour, Hitoshi subsequently throws the salaryman’s cell phone into a river to put an end to the aberration.
But when the salaryman’s mother unexpectedly shows up at Hitoshi’s apartment and somehow mistakes him for her son when obviously the two men look nothing alike, things have apparently become way out of sync. It is as if that one decision by Hitoshi to take on another’s identity has wreaked havoc with the order of the world—or at least his corner of the world. Then when Hitoshi visits his own mother in the apartment that they share, where the film begins, and finds himself face-to-face with a doppelgänger, he does not know what to think, let alone the spectator. And when Hitoshi and his doppelgänger find another ‘me,’ the confusion is immense but soon gives way to an infectious excitement for the multiple Hitoshis (and the spectator) as the three proceed to exchange lives. Are these doppelgängers a visual manifestation of Hitoshi’s play with identities that he may have further taken on? If not, what is happening?
In between working at an electronics appliance store, meeting a woman named Sayaka (Uchida Yuki) who commissions him to take photographs of real estate property (and having to deal with her jealous gangster husband), and hanging out with his doppelgängers, the spectator does not have the time to reflect on the whys and hows of these happenings and multiplications. Especially when more doppelgängers arrive on the scene and threaten to destabilise all modes of self known to Hitoshi. And especially when the Hitoshis begin to eliminate each other to lay claim to a supreme, stable, and singular identity. A bizarre tale, indeed. But it is one that compels the spectator to be swept away by the fun and disturbing illogic of it all and indulge in life’s and cinema’s eccentricities and playful imagination, magnificently filtered through Miki’s already offbeat perspective.
A bizarre tale, indeed. But it is one that compels the spectator to be swept away by the fun and disturbing illogic of it all and indulge in life’s and cinema’s eccentricities and playful imagination, magnificently filtered through Miki’s already offbeat perspective.
To be sure, signs that the world of the film is not actually meant to be taken as the equivalent to the one in which we live are already present even before Hitoshi’s first doppelgänger appears. Take his cartoon-like coworkers Tajima and Minami at the electronics appliance store, played deliciously by Kase Ryo and Fuse Eri (Miki’s wife). Their goofiness is so much more exaggerated than what the narrative requires and so plunges the film further into a kind of Alice-in-wonderland. It is as if they were unknowingly and suddenly transported into It ‘s Me, It’s Me from two different films but continue to play their roles accordingly. Their loveable oddballness juts out all the more compared to Hitoshi’s rather calm demeanour. In a sense, Kase and Fuse steal some of the spotlight from Kamenashi with their antics.
Given such characters, the film has a Seinfeld-bizarro feel all around, especially when Hitoshi begins to work for Sayaka. The mystery of her character, her job, and her social milieu injects a film noir touch to all of her scenes. But literally above all, the building-like specimen in the shape of a bloated UFO that towers over Hitoshi’s neighbourhood provides an eerie mood that curiously recalls the visual effect of the EUR water tower in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 film L’eclisse vis-à-vis the film’s themes of human relationships and communication, issues that are not irrelevant to It’s Me, It’s Me. With his signature quirky style that belies thoughtful issues about identity and interaction, Miki presents a fantastic adaptation of Hoshino’s novel and proves that he is one of contemporary Japanese cinema’s more interesting and notable filmmakers.