Monday, 19 March 2012

(genuinely) an unheralded masterpiece

Air Doll (2009)
Dir. Koreeda Hirokazu
Starring; Bae Doona, Arata, Itao Itsuji

This beautiful, melancholy film is a modern day fairytale with elements of romantic comedies like Splash and Mannequin (not to mention Pinocchio), but although it has funny moments it’s far closer in its tone to Ridley Scotts’ philosophical sci-fi classic Bladerunner.

The story concerns a sex doll called Nozomi (an amazing performance by Korean star Bae Doona, best known in the west for Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and The Host), who comes to life when her lonely, middle-aged ‘owner’ is at work. During the day she learns about humankind by exploring the city (unusually Koreeda chooses to focus on the quieter, less obviously metropolitan areas of Tokyo)
and even getting a job in a video shop. Eventually, she seeks out her maker and forms a relationship with a co-worker, with tragic consequences.

The film is beautifully shot, perfectly acted and has a lovely, atmospheric soundtrack by Katsuhiko Maeda. At first it may seem like Doona’s performance is remarkable mainly for the convincing way in which she(aided by excellent makeup) represents an inanimate inflatable doll come to life, but in the end it is the depth of emotion she succeeds in transmitting despite the mostly minimal facial and vocal expression she allows herself to use. Compared with the human characters in the movie, Nozomi (like Roy Batty in Bladerunner, but in a far less sinister way) is far purer in her motives and highlights the gulf between ‘life’ in all its beauty and life as it is lived.

Sadly, Air Doll seems not to have had a UK release, but subtitled editions are fairly easy to find on DVD.

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