review its me its me

Hitoshi (Kazuya Kamenashi) works a job he hates for a boss he loathes, but he does it for the measly pay check he gets at the end of the week. It’s not long before that’s not enough though, so one day he makes a spur of the moment decision to “accidentally” steal a stranger’s cell phone and commit a bit of a scam. It’s called ‘ore-ore sagi’ which loosely translates to “it’s me! it’s me! scam/swindle,” and it involves phoning a stranger’s friend or relative, claiming to be that stranger, and then milking the concerned person on the other end of the line for money.

It’s a rash act, something Hitoshi would never have thought himself capable of, but he does it all the same. He calls the stranger’s mother, pretends he’s been in an accident resulting in damage to someone else’s car, and then convinces her to deposit money into his own bank account. Cash in hand a short while later, Hitoshi is briefly thrilled before the guilt settles in forcing him to ditch the phone and attempt to return the money.

But then things get weird.

“Am I who I think I am?”

The stranger’s mother appears at Hitoshi’s apartment and acts like he’s her son, and when he visits his own mom he’s surprised to find that not only does she not recognize him but that a nearly identical young man named Daiki (also Kamenashi) is there as her son instead. Hitoshi and Daiki soon meet a third incarnation named Nao (still Kamenashi), but while the three become fast friends new duplicates continue to appear. As bad as things quickly become, they get worse when someone starts “deleting” the doppelgangers throughout the city.

Complicating things further is a customer turned love interest who Hitoshi meets at the electronics store. Sayaka (Yuki Uchida) is married, but her obvious physical appeal combined with an expressed interest in Hitoshi’s reported photography skills leads to the two spending time together. This doesn’t sit well with her gangster husband, but it also doesn’t deter his attraction.

Writer/director Satoshi Miki, adapting Tomoyuki Hoshino‘s novel, has crafted a genre-hybrid with It’s Me, It’s Me that mixes some quirky comedy with its high concept plot turn to good effect. Well, it does so at first anyway. Hitoshi, Daiki, and Nao toy briefly with Multiplicity-like hijinks involving the three taking turns covering each other’s jobs, but a brotherly bond quickly grows among them. More than siblings, the three recognize a deeper connection and the idea that they’re extensions of each other. Their home base becomes a place of laughter and joy, but a growing influx of new familiar faces brings a change both in tone and in plot.

What started as an engaging and fun look at identity and what it means to be an individual yearning for companionship shifts gears to become a darker thriller of sorts. There’s nothing wrong with thrills of course, and jarring tone shifts are as common to Japanese (and Korean) cinema as chopsticks and black clothing, but it just doesn’t hold together here. Miki manages some fine digital work to make the various incarnations look good onscreen together, but an appreciation of the technical isn’t as powerful an attraction as the one earned by the earlier existential explorations.

While the story unravels the acting remains strong throughout, and most of the weight here lands on Kamenashi’s shoulders. He’s been acting for years, but his bigger claim to fame in Japan is as part of the boy band Kat-Tun. If anything that’s helped him as he finds slightly distinct personalities with each of his three main characters, and each is charismatic in their own way.

It’s Me, It’s Me runs nearly two hours, but Miki and Kamenashi deserve credit for keeping the film just engrossing enough even as the story loses its way for good. “If it’s not meaningful or amusing it’s not worth saying,” says Hitoshi early on, and while Miki would have been wise to follow his own script’s advice the end result remains a fine diversion anyway.

The Upside: Alternately amusing and engaging ; Kamenashi gives several unique performances; Uchida

The Downside: The film’s message is cluttered; tone shift not entirely successful

On the Side: Kazuya Kamenashi won Best Male Jeanist for a record five consecutive years from 2006-2010. This is a real thing. “The ‘Best Jeanist Award’ is an annual event to honor good-dressers of jeans fashion throughout famous persons.” Again, this is a real thing.

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