On the surface of things, Dr Yukio Daitokuji (Masahiro Motoki) leads a pretty enviable life, with his status at the family practice in the Tokyo suburbs assured thanks to his work with the war-wounded, and a beautiful wife to come home to in the evenings. And yet fissures are beginning to appear in the delicate fabric of his daily routine. For a start, his parents make little secret of their disapproval for his choice of new bride Rin, an amnesiac discovered on the banks of a nearby river with absolutely no indication as to where she came from or how she got there. Furthermore, a plague is currently running rife in the nearby slums, and the time-pressed doctor finds himself rapidly becoming the subject of animosity amongst his mangy neighbours due to the higher precedence he places on treating the wealthier citizens of the area.
Not long after strange smells begin exuding from his comfortable abode, a dark figure is spotted sneaking around the house by night, and his father is soon found dead with a clod of earth in his mouth. Mother knows something she's not telling, and after alluding to potential problems with Yukio's inheritance, likewise shuffles off her mortal coil before she is given the chance to fill in the details.
After a nocturnal besiegement by the pox-ridden slum dwellers, the righteous physician comes face to face with his doppelgänger Sutekichi. Cast aside at birth due to a prominent snake-like scar and raised by the neighbouring shanty dwellers, Yukio's lost twin is understandably irked by his rather unfair share of the birthrights and promptly shoves his brother down the dried-up well at the bottom of the garden. The interloper then closes the practise to shack up with the waif-like Rin, overzealously pitching himself into his brother's conjugal duties whilst his brother languishes in the pit. Despite having undertaken painstaking studies of his brother in order to mask his unwanted presence at the clinic, Sutekichi's appearance soon begins to stir up long forgotten memories of Rin's former life.
Taking the Edogawa Rampo short story 'The Twins' as his starting point, Shinya Tsukamoto's modernist Meiji period horror represents quite a departure from the hyperkinetic cyberpunk movies (Tetsuo I & II) that first brought the director's name to the lips of cult film fanatics the world over at the beginning of the 90s. Further proof of the enduring appeal of the author's dark mystery fiction for Japanese filmmakers, this grotesque horror represents the director's first foray into costume drama and fleshes out the bare bones of Rampo's original tale of savage sibling rivalry considerably. With the addition of the character of Rin fuelling the antagonism between the doctor and his dark flip-side and the added weight given to detailing Sutekichi's underclass origins, the original short story really only serves as a starting point for Tsukamoto to explore the "sins of our fathers" motif whilst vividly evoking the social conditions under which Rampo wrote his stories in the 1920s.
Former teen heart-throb Motoki (no stranger to the world of Edogawa Rampo, having featured heavily as the mainstay of a large part of the author's mystery fiction, detective Akechi in Shochiku studio's hallucinogenic 1994 biopic, Rampo) adapts well to his dual roles, as the sang-froid suave of Yukio is severely knocked off kilter by the appearance of his manic simulacrum in the guise of a cart-wheeling wolfman. Marked out by its bold, hyper-realistic colour palate, exaggerated make up and costume design and an absurd taste of the carnivalesque, this chilling psychological tale should prove more than a sufficient antidote to those left jaded by the restrained, by-numbers approach adopted by the majority of late 90s horrors that appeared in the wake of Ring.