Review: Air Doll (空気人形)
In short: A deep, thought-provoking, beautifully filmed, and well acted piece of Japanese cinema. Bae Doona is magnificent as an inflatable doll that develops a soul and falls in love. Hirokazu Koreeda wows once again with his deliberate film making, effectively commenting on social problems dealing with urban life. Despite the fact that it is a bit slow and a bit long, Air Doll is definitely one of the better films that I’ve seen recently.
I was finally able to watch this film (on DVD) and was impressed, more so than I thought I would be. To me, Air Doll includes aspects that make it attractive to both film festivals and commercial audiences. With the quirky and interesting premise of a sex doll that comes to life, Air Doll (which is lightly based on a manga) establishes itself as a film which seeks to appeal to modern audiences, specifically Japanese. This doll, “named” Nozomi (played by Korean actress Bae Doona), sneaks out of her owners house every day to go to work at a local video store. There, she falls in love with her coworker, Junichi (played by Arata), and learns about life–both the good and the bad.What separates Air Doll from some of Koreeda’s previous work is his choice of Mark Lee as cinematographer. He films the city of Tokyo beautifully, with long, gorgeous tracking shots. This is a departure from Koreeda’s usual style, of which films like Nobody Knows and Still Walking are good examples (both being pretty un-commercial). I enjoyed the cameo’s by some well-established actors, including Odagiri Joe as the doll maker, Susumu Terajima as a police officer, and Kimiko Yo as an aging woman obsessed with looking young, although they were definitely not noteworthy performances. I also enjoyed the music, which moved along with the pace of the film and effectively added emotional weight to select scenes.
Where I thought the film faltered was in length. It was too long, which is not a completely horrible fault in many cases, but towards the end I felt as if Koreeda had already established his point and needed to wrap it up. Length is a characteristic problem in many contemporary Japanese films. I feel as if this works for some (Love Exposure !?), but not for most. Another fault that I’d like to mention was the odd, Jdrama-like breaks in the scene where Nozomi is being repeatedly drained of air, then blown back up by Junichi in bed. The same shot was shown three times from different angles, which I found unnecessary and out of place. But that’s just me being picky.
Air Doll attempts to illustrate to the viewer the loneliness that exists in an urban environment such as Tokyo. Koreeda does this perfectly with the inclusion of small side stories; a nerdy otaku, a lonely old man, an aging woman obsessed with beauty, a bulimic woman suffering from depression, and other lonely people. These characters only briefly appear on the screen, giving the impression of the fleeting encounters with strangers in a big city urban environment. Bae Doona’s character of the doll, Nozomi, is the highlight of the movie. She plays the character perfectly, often condensing many emotions into one and displaying all of the quirkiness of a doll that has recently discovered life. It is interesting and perfect that Koreeda cast a Korean in the roll of the doll, as it further alienates the character from the rest of the cast as well as the audience. It is also interesting to note the fact that Bae Doona was very naked during the film (being a sex doll and all), a feat that not many Japanese actresses would even dare to do. She has been nominated for–and won many–awards for best actress.