There is a duality to BL that fans have come to respect and understand. On the surface, it is a place of attractive men, high definition pictures, with the expected payoff of sensual kisses as a given.
But in Japanese BL’s, each story is unique in the way the content is presented with an unflinching eye for detailing; in the same way, we as fans also enjoy the 3 POV kissing angles. With 2017’s feature film “Double Mints”, Director Eiji Uchida treats us to a film that diverges onto the insidiously taut story of two men who share more than their name.
Mitsuo Ichikawa, a name two young men from different walks of life coincidentally share. That is the only similarity between them as they meet in high school. In the same home room period the two become aware of each other. But one boy is kind and hopeful, the other cold and cruel. From the moment the dark Mitsuo becomes aware of the light Mitsuo, he dominates and humiliates him; subjugating his free will in a way only a silent obsession would allow. Even their way of viewing each other is different. Light Mitsuo refers to Dark Mitsuo as “friend” while Dark Mitsuo refers to him as “dog”. The story begins as the two are adults who haven’t seen each other in years. Light Mitsuo (Fuchikami Yasushi), now tall and handsome, has a respectable job in journalism. Only to be called by Dark Mitsuo (Tanaka Shunsuke) with a request! He instantly drops everything to rush to Dark Mitsuo and sees a dead woman that needs to be buried. This is the beginning phase of their forbidden reconciliation.
Beautifully shot with precise camera work, shown through tight close shots on their faces, the resulting massacre is set into motion. The director showcases how the two men’s social life and people dwelling alongside exist around them. It could be the nameless coworkers who have no dialogue, but watch Light Mitsuo in a way nosy office workers often do; or it could be the menacing mafia goons and head of the small crime syndicate that constitute Dark Mitsuo’s world after high school. A level of detail is used to paint their lives after adolescence that doesn’t necessarily need explaining. It’s a perfect backdrop to the pair’s separated existence. While bright yet artificial white color schemes are used to portray Light Mitsuo; Dark Mitsuo’s world is more dark, insidious with the crime aspect. The settings add to our understanding of what sort of men the two have become, while drawing our attention to detailed shots of them walking through sets meant primarily for their own character.
When the pair meet in a dark parking garage, Dark Mitsuo is already drunk. He shows Light Mitsuo the body of his girlfriend in the trunk, and together they drive off to dispose her corpse. The background music playing during the car ride highlights the inner turmoil faced by Light Mitsuo, as Dark Mitsuo deliberately says things to get a rise out of him. The scene cuts to a flashback where the two men met in high school. The backstory reveals that from the moment they met, Dark Mitsuo has been a cruel bully (like leaving Light Mitsuo naked in the gym storage area). The close-up shots of Light Mitsuo crouched while naked, afraid of anyone seeing him nude are expertly done. The scene is made more heavy as three teenage girls come to grab mats for gymnastics mere inches from his hiding spot. It was a moment of pure surprise to me as a viewer; because when Light Mitsuo finally has the courage to leave the storage area, Dark Mitsuo is waiting for him.
The scene shifts to their conversation (won’t spoil) but it explains the origin of their twisted friendship as the sounds of Dark Mitsuo’s lunatic laughter carry over with the transition to the modern day. The contrast is clear from their expressions; while one derives pleasure from those memories, the other one is sad and discomforted (even though they are thinking of the same incident on the long night drive). Illuminated by the headlights, Light Mitsuo alone digs the grave for the woman. The words he uses though, do showcase his lack of submission towards his “friend” whose face of consternation shows his displeasure with him. Despite his new backbone, Light Mitsuo does drag the body to the grave and buries her while Dark Mitsuo sleeps comfortably.
On the drive back to the city from the hilly mountain area, the two banter and challenge one another until Light Mitsuo has had enough. He forces a kiss on Dark Mitsuo and then shoves his hand into his pants and grips his erection, before abandoning him there and walking away. In another abrupt cut, we see the events leading up to how the girl dies violently at Dark Mitsuo’s hands. The scene is perfectly acted as Dark Mitsuo reacts like a rabid dog, slobber hanging from his lower lips as his fist pummels the woman’s face. To highlight the indifference of it, a drunken couple wanders past, paying no mind to his bloody hands or the woman on the ground.
Out of guilt, Dark Mitsuo leads a team of men goes to dig up the corpse but finds nothing. The men turn out to be policemen, led by a seasoned investigator who does believe a corpse was buried there. Curious to know what happened, Dark Mitsuo goes back to work as a stooge for the mob. Today’s job is ensuring that an injured man doesn’t leave the hospital. The scene shifts to the injured man, who is tortured by the mafia boss before being thrown out of a window directly and falls to death in a spot where Dark Mitsuo is sitting. It is a blunt warning for him, which makes sense because Dark Mitsuo went to the police, which brought attention to all of them. There is an almost comical moment of Dark Mitsuo watching the corpse spasm on the ground before being seized by the men.
The scene shifts to Light Mitsuo at work who meets with the same inspector from prior. The two play a clever game of veiled words for a moment before the inspector leaves as quickly as he came. Dark Mitsuo goes to work and to his surprise, finds the inspector having another of his wordplay veiled with the head of their crime syndicate. Dark Mitsuo believes that the inspector has nothing until he brandishes the ring that Mitsuo had given to the woman; the same ring that Light Mitsuo wore. Dark Mitsuo in a panic, calls Light Mitsuo who summons him to his apartment.
Light Mitsuo sits with the presumably dead woman whom he saved draped around him. He pays no attention to her but allows her to hug him to enrage Dark Mitsuo. It works as Dark Mitsuo flies into a rage, beating Light Mitsuo while the woman watches. The scene has its own heinous quality as Light Mitsuo acts out before he sensually kisses the woman and grabs her breasts. It’s clear he feels nothing for her, but the show he is putting on for Dark Mitsuo is enough.
With Dark Mitsuo’s boot pressed against his face, Light Mitsuo seeks his pleasure. The acting here is award-worthy as Dark Mitsuo grinds his heel against his face, ripping into his skin so blood appears bright against his skin. He breaks down as Dark Mitsuo degrades him, calling him a pervert and the change is so abrupt it is truly horrifying. Dark Mitsuo gets the girl to leave, truly exasperated with her presence and sits down. As a haunting melody plays, Light Mitsuo crawls to him and tentatively gets between his legs.
The scene of fellatio is done off screen with the viewer given a view of only Dark Mitsuo’s face, lost in his own passion as the slow melody builds before the scene cuts abruptly. Beginning his “relationship” with Light Mitsuo! The two put on an intimate show for the detective at a bar before the film shows a flashback of Light Mitsuo in high school and the girl he crushed on. Only to have the situation ruined by Dark Mitsuo, who only wanted Light Mitsuo’s attention on him.
A large portion of what makes “Double Mints” a masterful film is that it draws upon the knowledge these two men have about each other. Any outsider into their claustrophobic world is just that, generally there to cause the couple pain in some form or fashion (whether it’s intended to be this way or not). This is their reality as Dark Mitsuo pays for the attention he brought on the mafia by getting violently beaten up. Soon, Light Mitsuo finds himself assuming his role as a courier for the mafia. The contrast in Dark Mitsuo’s pick up versus his high-risk drop off at a public place is perfectly sound tracked with a more intense string arrangement. Music plays such an important role in the film as it does more than accompany what’s on screen. Instead, it sets the tone for it, guiding our emotions as we watch the film.
Dark Mitsuo’s misdeeds come to light and as retribution he is gang raped by three of the men working for the mafia boss. The entire event is recorded without censor and given to Light Mitsuo on disc. The scene was hard to watch as the funeral dirge like music plays. But what almost matches the rape on carnality is the way Light Mitsuo eats a large peach while relishing the record. The rape scene juxtaposed with scenes of his mouth ripping into the fruit; the way the juices run down his fingers, the close-up shots of his eyes unblinking as he watches the man he loves being tortured, is unsettling. There is a rapt fascination that sucks you in so much you don’t notice Dark Mitsuo’s presence until he yanks the laptop and smashes it. Here the film falters in a way I want to pause and comment on.
Action scenes in this heavy drama are the Achilles’ tendon for it. It doesn’t do much justice to the film, at all. There is a scene where Light Mitsuo is being chased by the detective and there is no tension, no music setting any kind of mood. It’s just an out of shape older man running from a nerd; which was disappointing cause this should have been a time for closeups, the fast-paced stringing sections to send home the apprehension experienced by them. That same level of ambivalence is used in the current scenario, as the computer is smashed in slow motion. Both absent as we see Light Mitsuo look at gaze at Dark Mitsuo in a lust filled haze, which makes me believe that in some twisted way he was getting off on what he was watching. The scene switches mood to a white knuckle tension until Dark Mitsuo makes a self-sacrificing move you don’t see coming.
The film takes a turn as its conclusion draws onto the peril faced by the two lovers. They are desperate for each other, but it’s clear the mafia isn’t willing to let go of their errand boy easily. The film could have been truly amazing, but the characters make uncharacteristic moves to rush the ending, which cheapens the ending. Dark Mitsuo being an idiot to trust the man who had him gang raped for starters; him turning on someone who was just trying to help him; to winding up at the ending with Light Mitsuo as his only companion, can be viewed as the sum of really stupid decisions made by the character and writer. But at least it’s a happy ending.
Rating- 4 out of 5 stars