- Double Visions, Double Fictions: The Doppelgänger in Japanese Film and Literature by Baryon Tensor Posadas
When a protagonist in a story encounters their Doppelgänger (lit. double walker), they have a vision of a body identical to themselves.1 Seeing yourself that is not you is not just unsettling but takes you to a place where you start questioning who you are, a critical question with no finite answer. The vision of a Doppelgänger, according to Baryon Tensor Posadas, destabilizes the sense of the self, creating a condition in which the self is unable to differentiate itself from the Other. The effect of this experience on your psyche is that you feel you are no longer a unified whole but are split—or worse, fragmented. Since the internal landscape of a modern man, who struggles to keep himself together, was the field of writing for the modern novelist, the Doppelgänger trope flourished in the nineteenth century. William Wilson (Edgar Allan Poe, 1839), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886), and Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde, 1890): all of these well-known Doppelgänger narratives which Posadas refers to in his book, Double Visions, Double Fictions, certainly fit in this category. We should probably add to this list two Russian novels, The Nose (Nikolai Gogol, 1836) and The Double (Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1846), as part of the great influence, along with the others, on the formation of Japanese modern novels.
For Posadas, the Doppelgänger is not merely a narrative technique that generates fantastic stories of mistaken identities and evil takeovers. Rather, he redefines it from his postmodernist standpoint as a positive agent that undermines the moderns' effort to construct their selfhood as a unique and unified entity. Resorting to what is now literary orthodoxy, he equates the [End Page 217] trope of the Doppelgänger with the Freudian notion of the uncanny—the sense of being simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar—that manifests the return of the repressed. We all have a desire to become someone else to a varied degree, which more often than not guides us in the right direction to transform ourselves into a persona more desirable to us. According to Freud, however, what we leave behind in the process will return to us, catching us off guard to threaten our psyche. This psychoanalytic theory has been widely applied outside clinical psychoanalysis, for example, in explaining sociohistorical phenomena. Posadas does exactly that in this book.
He goes on to argue that Doppelgänger stories appear in a cluster when people are feeling uncertain about their identity and their power of control, or in other words, when people are feeling unable to cope with the sociocultural shifts taking place around them. Posadas points particularly to the time of rapid urbanization and modernization of the interwar period, when Japan's colonial expansion brought home images and the presence of new commodities and unfamiliar bodies, turning cities into a contact zone where anxiety and a sense of displacement proliferated and deepened. Detective stories, along with modernist art, psychoanalysis, nativist ethnography, and mythmaking, began to emerge in this social setting. The emergence of movie theaters in the cityscape also had a significant influence on all of these new genres of thought. The cinema, which mirrors reality, offered to the audience none other than a Doppelgänger experience of the uncanny. Motion pictures were at that time the Doppelgänger par excellence.
In the first half of the book, Posadas looks into short stories written during the interwar period, namely, "Futatsu no tegami" (Two letters, 1918), "Kage" (The shadow, 1920), and "Haguruma" (Spinning gears, 1927) by Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892–1927); "Inju" (The beast in the shadows, 1928) by Edogawa Ranpo (1894–1965); and "Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi" (The story of Tomoda and Matsunaga, 1926) and "Aozuka shi no hanashi" (Mr. Aozuka's Story, 1926) by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886–1965). The Doppelgänger gives a framework for all of these stories...