Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Bae Doo-na, Arata, Joe Odagiri
A Fractured Fairy Tale about Soulless City Life
Air Doll is a poetic, unhurried, beautifully shot and poignant movie which may remind you of Lars and the Real Girl, Artificial Intelligence, Enchanted, Cyborg She, Pinocchio and Toy Story, yet it distinguishes itself by its poetic quality and focus on the emptiness of city life.
Indeed, city dwellers resemble sex dolls. Lacking souls and uniqueness, they can be easily substituted by others. Nozomi's sex with three different men exploiting her and treating her as a substitute is one of the examples. Degrading themselves by treating each other as functional objects, they will be forgotten once they become useless. A dead person therefore is depicted as a piece of garbage.
Moreover, some city dwellers prefer to live alone and sometimes they feel lonely. The movie reminds us that humans should have companions. DVDs gradually replacing cinemas also indicates that people nowadays prefer solitude.
Apart from these, city slickers value money and sex more important than soul and love. For instance, a man prefers an air doll to a real woman and even a little girl prefers a ring to a doll given by her mother.
Despite the gloomy atmosphere, the movie reminds us of the cycle of life which consists of not only downs, but also ups. Although plants wither in winter, they grow in spring. Perhaps we should learn from Nozomi who tries to appreciate every moment of happiness, be it fleeting or lasting, for instance, gazing at stars and even a raindrop, admiring the breathtaking scenery in the city, embracing a man she has a crush on while riding on a motorcycle, etc. Indeed, Nozomi is already happier than other real human characters in the movie.
Starring as an inflatable sex doll with a soul, Korean actress Doona Bae (The Host, Linda Linda Linda) gives a convincing and dazzling performance in this Japanese movie. The audience will be amazed by every nuance of her expressions / movements and the daring naked scenes.
The renowned Taiwan cinematographer Mark Ping-bing Lee (In the Mood for Love) succeeds in capturing the mood of this lonely city by often panning his camera slowly to observe loners. The dreamlike music by World's End Girlfriend also adds much purity, mystery and melancholy to this fractured modern fairy tale.
Although the plot would become more substantial if other minor characters were further developed, they help illustrate how lonely and alienated city dwellers are.
After seeing this haunting movie, one may leave the cinema with a heavy heart and a deep sigh, trying to feel one's long-lost soul and pondering on the meaning of ephemeral life.
Hirokazu Koreeda is one of my favorite directors and his previous movies like Maborosi, Nobody Knows and Still Walking are highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Kenji Chan