Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Air Doll Movie Review

This film has opened commercially in a very limited capacity in the US and only in a handful of European and Asian countries.

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda established himself in the 90s with two masterful films (Mabarosi and After Life) and followed up in 2004 with Nobody Knows, also a wonderful film, about 4 young children abandoned by their mother and living for several months in an apartment completely unnoticed by the world.

His latest film, Air Doll, while sharing in common with his other work a gift for seeing deep inside the human condition, follows on from some of the themes of Nobody Knows. In the story of an inflatable sex doll that comes to life, wanders around the city, gets a job and falls in love, Koreeda takes a more philosophical look at the isolation and loneliness of city life than in that earlier film.

The doll is named Nozomi by her owner, who treats her as if she were real. He announces his arrival home from work, she sits at the table and listens to him as he talks over dinner and then he makes love to her. When he leaves, she comes to life, always making sure to put herself back as she was before his arrival at the end of the day.

On her first trip outside the house, she has a childlike wonder about everything. For Nozomi it’s a game of imitation and learning in much the way a small child imitates adults until he learns social norms and conventions. Later she takes a job in a video shop where she meets Junichi. You can’t really say they begin a romantic relationship. He teaches her all he can about the plots and actors of different movies. But there is something special shared between them, especially when she accidentally punctures her arm and Junichi repairs the hole and re-inflates her.

At first he is shocked to see the air going out of her, but then he is nonplussed as he finds the air valve in her belly and blows her back to life. Later he tells her that he is empty inside too. For someone who spends as much time as I do absorbing cinema like Junichi, I have to say I sometimes understand that feeling. Of course Junichi is referring to a metaphorical emptiness. Nozomi, still ignorant of the use of metaphor in human life, doesn’t distinguish a difference and believes that he too is full of air. I suppose it doesn’t help that an old philosopher she meets on a park bench informs her that there are many like her walking around. The belief that she is not unique, odd or different is an essential part of her development as a human being (as it is for everyone), but it also turns out to be quite tragic.

Koreeda is a first class film maker and he has obviously given very careful thought to the philosophical meanderings of his film. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of a well structured storyline. He makes a half-hearted attempt to connect the mysticism to of Western literature Hans Christian Andersen via Walt Disney in a couple of references to The Little Mermaid that don’t really go anywhere or anything of substance to the film.

Air Doll is a bit of a misfire, the kind of self-indulgent morass we too often see in a late outing from established and skilled artists. Somewhere lurking inside it is possibly a very good movie trying to get out. Cutting it down by about 20 minutes might be a start. I would highly recommend any of Koreeda’s other three films mentioned above before seeking out this one.

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