From Hirokazu Kore-eda, the acclaimed director of world cinema oddities After Life (1998) and Still Walking (2008), comes Air Doll – finally released in the UK on DVD after appearing at the BFI London Film Festival back in 2009. Traversing the smut and juvenile humour evoked by its peculiar premise of a life-sized sex doll that miraculously comes to life, Kore-eda’s film is a surprisingly quaint, yet curiously detached examination of how we all take life for granted. When a lonely waiter’s cheap blow-up doll inexplicably comes to life, she finds herself a job in a video store where she falls in love with a shy and retiring clerk.
Unwilling to give up the free board she receives from her lecherous owner, Nozomi (played with an endearing wide eyed innocence by Doona Bae) continues to perform the role she was bought into this world to perform with sadness soon penetrating her life, opening her silicone eyes to her life as a replica sexual substitute and the loneliness and despair which often infects the world.
Air Doll is essentially a social commentary set within a dollhouse of heartfelt sentiment and artificial emotions, which organically evolves into a clichéd tale of love and of discovering the hidden beauty that resides within the world. A quaint cocktail of Pinocchio and Mannequin (1987) told in a distinguishably Japanese manner and scored by an idiosyncratic soundtrack that feels ripped straight out of the creative mind of Jon Brion, Kore-eda’s latest feels like its message is being force fed with a sprinkling of sugar to help it all go down a little easier.
A stale and clinical tale of how we take life for granted, coated in a saccharine sweet gloss that fails to illuminate the magical atmosphere Kore-eda is so clearly intending to capture, Air Doll transfers childhood wonder into a lifeless sexual reciprocal to give us an insight into the world we have forgotten – one full of small wonders and curious actions which through a mixture of ageing and the mundane rituals of life we have sadly become blinded to. However, it ultimately culminates in a film devoid of any emotion, something Kore-eda’s normal oeuvre is renowned for – focusing upon the fraught tension between death and loss and the power of memories to dictate our everyday actions.
Held together by some strong performances and a sumptuous eye for capturing the same beauty Nozomi experiences, Air Doll remains a perfectly watchable film that hold your attention throughout, yet sadly fails to blind you from the harsh realities of real life – a bloated and beautiful shell of a film that, like its protagonist, is a little too full of hot air.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Air Doll is available to own now on DVD. Order from Amazon here.