Rating: 6/10
Year: 2002
Genre: Drama
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Miho Kanno, Kyoko Fukada

Dolls is the latest work of the renowned Japanese director Takeshi Kitano. It has been invited to partcipate in a great number of international film festivals worldwide. Similar to his other works, this movie is quite controversial and it has received very mixed response.

The film is composed of three short stories. The first one is about the aimless journey of a pair of lovers (Hidetoshi Nishijima and Miho Kanno); The second one involves the reunion of a yakuza boss and his old lover after a thirty years interval; The third story talks about the fanatical love of a fan to his idol singer (Kyoko Fukada). Although the characters of these three stories do come across each other at certain moment of the movie, the stories do not intertwine or have any explicit connection at all. Each one of them is just presented on its own. Among the three short stories, the reunion of the yakuza boss and his old lover is the most easy-going one, while the focus of the movie, that is, the aimless journey of Nishijima and Kanno, is the one that is most difficult to appreciate. We only see the two lovers walking and walking aimlessly throughout the film. There is no dialogue or any dramatic encounter in their journey. "Walking" seems to be an important motif in Kitano's movies. Back in Violent Cop or films like Brother, there are always a lot of walking scenes. I am yet to discover if there is any implicit meaning behind this "walking" motif.

Kitano's unique style is always highly acclaimed by his fans. This time, he is not as frenetic as before. Violence is minimized and replaced with dark romance. Yes, there are still some killing scenes in the movie, but it is depicted in a very euphemistic manner, you wouldn't see any blood shedding or head blowing scenes as you see in Brother. This change of style is quite interesting, and it is probably a new try for Kitano.

Talking about the story of Kitano's films (in which he is always the scriptwriter), most of them are inscribed with traditional Japanese way of thinking. The inspiration of Dolls is from traditional bunraku performance. Bunraku is a kind of performing art in which puppets are manipulated by puppeteers on the stage, while Joruri chanters and Shamisen sit on stage to the audience's right, singing and narrating the puppet performance. To be honest, My knowledge about bunraku is very brief. The red rope tying the two lovers up is probably a symbol of the puppet string. The elegant costume of the lovers make them look like puppet as well. While Kitano keeps reminding us these characters are based on puppet play, he also subverts the tradition of bunraku performance by minimizing the influence of dialogue in his film. Therefore it is not easy to comprehend what exactly Kitano wants to explore with the theme of the bunraku performance. Is he trying to embrace it or challenge it? Hard to say.

The collaboration of Kitano, Yohji Yamamoto and Joe Hisaishi guarantee top notch production design and background music. To the foreign audiences who are baffled by the lunatic narrative, the strong visual element is no doubt the major factor that keeps them sitting through the screening. The beautiful costumes and splendid landscapes are very eye-catching. Kitano abandons his favorite use of cold color in his composition. The cinematography turns into a vivid and colorful combination of costumes and landscapes instead. Acting wise, Miho Kanno and Tatsuya Mihashi are the two you would want to keep an eye on. Without the use of too many dialogues, these two are able to bring out the emotions of their characters perfectly and deliver their part merely with the use of their eyes and body gestures.

I darenot say Dolls is a successful film, and it is also definitely not mainstream material. If you have picked up this movie expecting another Brother or Violent Cop, you'll be disappointed for sure. Nevertheless, as a first formal attempt at the romance genre, Takeshi Kitano's performance is qualified. Not only does he retain his unique style, he has also tried his very best to explore and bring in some of his own interpretation of extreme love and sacrifice to the genre.

Cool guy(s) - Miho Kanno, Tatsuya Mihashi

Reviewed by: Kantorates