Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, Japan, 2009)

Take me to my maker

Kore-eda Hirokazu took an idea from a manga (by Goda Yoshiie) a sex doll comes alive, and does what Kore-eda does: make a marvellously humane film. What is a potentially exploitative idea offering the titillation of transgression (sex with a doll) and female nudity becomes instead a rumination on modern alienation, particularly in Japan. It has been reported, with I guess some bemusement in the west, that Japan’s falling birth rate is linked to young people’s indifference to sex. Kore-eda’s films suggests, as the doll, Nozomi (Bae Doo-na of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), says at least a couple of time, she exists because people (men) don’t won’t the complexity of relationships. Peripheral characters who pass Nozomi emphasise the absence of love in urban life.  She works in a video store, ironically given we’re watching a film, which seems to suggest that people use films as a way to vicariously experience the whole range of human emotion.

As in his other films, Kore-eda produces moments of cinematic magic (by which I mean film is the only medium the scene would work so effectively) when Nozumi floats amongst the balloons that look like planets that her owner has adorning his room. It’s both funny and life affirming as it shows a blow up doll understanding our place in the universe. Of course, the idea is absurd and there is no explanation for Nozumi suddenly waking up, finding a heart, but that would only matter to those without imagination.

I must admit the ending confused me slightly (no spoilers) but the final scenes are devastating and, along with another disturbing scene, are in direct contrast to the light-heartedness of much of the film’s mood. The casting the brilliant Bae Doo-na, a Korean, in the role was presumably to enhance the otherworldliness of Nozomi; I’ve no idea to what extent her Japanese is accented. The way she moves is sufficient to signify difference and the scene when she goes to the sex doll manufacturer (above) reminded me of Blade Runner. I suspect it’s a deceptively complex film that will need at least another viewing.

Kore-eda has been my greatest discovery this year (OK I’ve been miles behind aficionados) and he reminds us about the thrill of cinema and the thrill of life.

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