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July 26, 2011

The Clone Returns Home

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Kuron wa kokyo wo mezasu
Kanji Nakajima - 2008
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

This is the first time I've even seen a DVD cover with the following statement, "Warning: Contains Significant Amounts of Philosophy". I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but what is certain is that The Clone Returns Home is a marked departure from the samurai dramas that make up the main stock of AnimEigo's releases to date. Not only is the film a relatively recent production that takes place in a contemporary setting, but the science fiction setup is a far cry from palace intrigue in old Edo.

This is a science fiction film, but one that shares some of the same concerns as Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Duncan Jones' Moon. The basic premise is that an astronaut allows himself to be completely cloned, should he be in a situation where he dies during his latest mission. The doctors supporting this first legal attempt at human cloning explain the benefits in the most humanist terms possible. The astronaut, on an unexplained solo flight, is killed, with a clone created to take his place. What is not planned for is that the clone has suppressed memories of his own that come to the forefront, and that the spirit of the astronaut may possibly have come back to earth.

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Nakajima's theme of identity is literally doubled by not only being a story about clones, but of twin brothers. The boy, Kohei, who loves to try and fool his mother, unsuccessfully, by claiming to be his brother Noboru, is the one who grows up to be the astronaut. Several times throughout the film, there is a close up of Kohei's hand, with a large scar between the wrist and the knuckles. It is an important visual clue. With his "return" to Earth, Kohei questions his decision. There is a subplot involving an older scientist who was responsible for most of the cloning science, who used it for cloning a beloved grand-daughter. The scientist brings up the concept of where a person's soul goes when the original body is destroyed.

The science fiction elements are limited to a short scene of Kohei in space, and some computer imagining of the cloning process. Most of the film is concerned the act and meaning of memory. Nakajima contrasts the sterile, sparse contemporary settings with flashbacks taking place in a classic Japanese style house with sliding doors, in a remote, rural setting. Throughout the film, Nakajima is concerned with both the physical and emotional isolation of his characters, where even the most basic family units, mother and son, husband and wife, and brothers, come apart. Even when the home of childhood represents the closest ideal, it provides no escape from some of the darker aspects of life.

Normally I don't bother with "Making of . . ." supplements. What makes this a bit more interesting is that it documents some of the process of making a film over the course of several months, but also the actors discuss their challenges in making the film. Nakajima and star Mitsuhiro Oikawa both talk about eliminating the mannerisms of the celebrity nicknamed Michee. There is also a cute moment when actress Eri Ishida leaves aside her role as the mother to play with the Tsukamoto twins. In turn, we also see Nakajima working on the most dramatic scene with young Ryo Tsukamoto who has to perform in a potentially dangerous creek. As usual with AnimEigo's DVD releases, this film comes with colored subtitles, including a special explanatory title to inform the viewer of color coding for each twin's dialogue. My own hope is that The Clone Returns Home does well enough to encourage AnimEigo to include other types of releases in addition to their many classic films of shoguns and swords.

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Posted by peter at July 26, 2011 08:18 AM