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Joseph Proimakis [Celluloid 12.12.09] Japan review comedy drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writers: Hirokazu Koreeda
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Joseph Proimakis
Rating: 5 out of 10

Beautifully shot and delightfully acted, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Airdoll plays like a love-song to the splendor and bitterness of life, filled with allegory in each verse. It’s too bad though, that Kore-eda’s renowned soft touch and pop aesthetics are a bit too blunt around the edges, to go anywhere further than skin-deep at the vast number issues he tries to juggle.

Staying close to his explorations of jaded forms of love and loss, Kore-eda (two time Cannes contender with Distance (2001) and Nobody Knows (2004)) takes a 20 page short manga (The Pneumatic Figure of a Girl, pub. 2000 by Youshiide Gouda), and makes a full blown two-hour movie out of its story about a blow-up sex doll that offers more than sexual pleasure to her lonesome owner, who spends hours joyfully yapping about his boring job as a waiter and his loathsome co-workers, reading to her and even teaching her what the stars in the evening sky are called, pointing them out at his miniature galaxy hanging from his bedroom ceiling.

His blow-up companion however, suddenly acquires a hidden agenda, when she comes alive, and starts discovering the world around her, first by walking around the house and mimicking the sounds and motions of the neighbors she sees through the living-room window, then by taking long walks outside while her master is away at work, and eventually by getting a job at a video store and taking up one of the clerks as her lover.

Seeking what it means to be human and how to go about the world after finding oneself with “a heart [one] wasn’t supposed to have”, Kore-eda’s wide-eyed, alluring Pinnochio shuffles through this new-found place called “the land of the living”, meeting the wide array of characters Kore-eda has added to the story, each one passing on his own wisdom token to her, while she lends her emotional excitement to a film that’s as much about finding one’s place in a world of equal wonder and terror, as it is about finding one’s soul-mate in it --a buoy to guide you through the journey of accepting your own nature as well as that of the things and beings surrounding you.

The titular air-doll’s innocence grants the director access to some inspired slapstick, while her anatomical peculiarity makes room for some delightfull stabs at surrealism, like an extorted-love scene that ends with one of the participants taking out her retractable vagina and giving it a thorough foam bath. The film’s strongest scene comes as a result of the characters naivite and her distorted take on bedroom relaxation, as she literally tries to poke some fun on her lover and it all literally ends in blood and tears. However, given the endless amount of possibilites the story offers, the director keeps his forrays into debatable taste to a bare minimum, letting the paradox at hand showcase the perversion of the story.

At 125 minutes, Kore-eda’s story spreads terribly thin however, and his allegories for solitude, happiness, sadnesss, richness of character, uniqueness of individuals, motives behind motions, female objectification, sex, love, life, the universe and everything, wear out as the director’s touch proves to be far too unsteady to grasp any of the apples he’s thrown in his bag. His beautifully lensed poetic approach (by Hou Hsiao-hsien’s regular collaborator and top-notch cinematographer Pin Bing Lee), shambles through this truckload of metaphors, as the director seems unwilling to commit to any of them long enough to make a narrative axis out of it. Depicting things through the eyes of a child (or those of a visitor from outer space, whichever works best for you) his vision turns from sweet and charming to schematic and naive, and though Du-na Bae’s heart-warming performance at a carricature of a character portrayed with a comically robotic approach, infuses the story with loveable charm, the film’s welcome deflates long before its maker decides to wrap it up.

Air Doll’s screening packed the theater at the last Thessaloniki International Film Festival, where it was featured as part of this year’s Focus section, an eclectic mix of films from around the globe, this time picked for best representing what the section’s programmer, Konstantinos Kontovrakis named Post-Romance. The rest of the crop were Alexis Dos Santos’ Unmade Beds, Valérie Donzelli’s The Queen of Hearts, Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, Urszula Antoniak’s Nothing Personal, György Pálfi’s I Am Not Your Friend, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Easier with Practice and Lee Hey-jun’s Castaway on the Moon.

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