Gemini (1999) – Japan & its Historic Social Caste

Gemini (known in Japan as Sōseiji) is a Japanese horror film directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. The plot revolves around a young, successful doctor, Daitokuji Yukio, who lives an enviable life with his parents and elegant wife, Rin. The table turns when his long lost identical twin brother, Sutekichi, returns from the slums and takes over Yukio’s life through a twin switch. Purposely set in the Meiji Era of Japan (1868-1912), the film explores the themes of social segregation and the extremes of human civilization. It also gives insight to life in Japan during this historical period.

Throughout the story, there is a clear segregation between the middle-upper class and the degraded residents of the nearby slum. This can be seen when Yukio choses to attend to the injured, affluent mayor rather than a mother with an infant from the slum. He later tries to justify his actions, claiming that the slum dwellers were evil in nature, and should be wiped out with fire. Minorities during the Meiji era were classified as the hinmin (poor people, slums), hinin (non-people, which included prostitutes and criminals), or the burakumins (butchers, death workers). Just like how Yukio points his concentration toward wealthy patients, the upper class at this time period disapproved of those beneath them and viewed them as filthy, naturally sinful, and as social outcasts.

Yukio and his mother in kimonos.

In the two polar ends of the social spectrum, the middle-upper class and the hinmin civilians are portrayed through an obvious distinction. Yukio and his parents, who belong in the upper social ladder, are seen wearing clean suits, ties, or kimonos with formal postures in their everyday routines. They are also seen with maids, or helpers around their well-organized, spacious house. On the opposite end of the social caste, are those who dwell in the slums. These seemingly-monstrous people are characterized with mismatched clothes and dirty, messy hair. Sutekichi and Rin (before meeting Yukio) are seen living in a wrecked house depending on their habit of thieving for simple survival. Other immoral acts such as murder are also present in this setting.


Burakumin, Japan’s “invisible race”.

The table of this Japanese social structure was turned around when Yukio’s identical twin, Sutekichi, who was left for dead since birth, shows up, traps him in a dried-up well, and takes over his life. The animalistic nature of human beings are also seen in the tormented and frustrated Yukio, when he begins to take his evil brother’s filthy appearance, eating rice with Sutekichi’s spit dumped on the ground; much like a wild, hungry animal. Covered in mud with red eyes, Yukio is being put into the shoes of the slum dwellers, much like his brother if he had ended up being his parent’s reject. Yukio’s animalistic nature is also seen when he strangles his evil brother to death.

Yukio, trapped by his brother.

Whether it is the discrimination toward the poor people from the rich, or the hinmin people’s immoral behaviours, the idea of the separation between social classes during the Meiji Era and the lecherous nature of human beings are both properly innovated in Gemini. The film brings a social issue at the time to light, and is told through an interesting, psychological tale.

*Edit 11/15/2015: minor adjustments for clarity;

  Added: sources on the discrimination of Japanese minorities, burakumin


Changed original image into one of the burakumin to better relate with underlying topic.

*Edit 11/20/2015: took out redundant information; additional grammatical adjustments

[Welcome to Asian Scare]

Pale white skin, bloodshot eyes, and tangled, long hair. A girl in a dirty white dress is standing at the end of the corridor. You are standing alone at the opposite end and the lights start flickering. With each fleeing second, the ghastly figure appears closer. You turn your back and start to run the other way, but then your face meets her…

Scene from Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs (2003), a South Korean film.

Scene from Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs, a 2003 South Korean film.

This is a common scene in many Asian horror films. When discussing the horror cinema industry in Asia, films such as Ringu (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), or One Missed Call (2003) take on the spotlight. Asian horror films, especially those made in Japan (known as J-horror), have played a huge role in the advancement of the movie genre. It is also worth noting that a few of these Asian films have been adapted and remade by famous film studios in the West. Having shocking, visceral and psychological effects on its audience, the genre has earned itself an infamous, disturbing reputation.

However, the horror genre’s goals are far from just evoking fear on its viewers. The elements that make up these national horrors not only give insight to a country’s history, but also its cultural identity and tradition. Known for its ability of political and economic allegory, these films convey an extended metaphor with hidden meanings about major issues through the use of symbols. They reflect national and global traumas, which often include political oppression, wars, and natural disasters; the list goes on. Over the next few weeks, we will analyze major horror films from Asia, examine their overarching themes, visual motifs, and finally, compare them to Western adaptations. Stay tuned for more, if you dare. This is the Asian Scare.

*Edit 11/15/2015: minor rearrangements, grammatical adjustments.

*Edit 11/20/2015: fixed incorrect information – the Ju-On franchise consists of 11 films, although only a few was released theatrically. The one I am referring to is the first theatrical release (3rd film in the series), released in 2002. The American adaptation was released two years after.