Air Doll (Kûki ningyô)

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô)

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô) (Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda): The premise of Air Doll seems silly at best, sala­cious at worst: an inflat­able sex doll comes to life. In the hands of another dir­ector, the res­ult­ing film would prob­ably have been a stand­ard sex com­edy. But Kore-eda, whose pre­vi­ous TIFF appear­ances have been with thought­ful films like Still Walking and Nobody Knows, turns the film into an abso­lutely cap­tiv­at­ing med­it­a­tion on what it means to be human.

One morn­ing, Nozomi, a “sex sub­sti­tute”, finds that she has acquired a heart. Puzzled, she dresses her­self in the maid’s out­fit her owner has bought for her, and ven­tures out. By mim­ick­ing the speech and actions of her neigh­bours, she learns to fit in, and she soon lands a job work­ing at a video store, where she begins to fall in love with her co-worker. Casting the won­der­ful Bae Doo Na (Linda Linda Linda, The Host) was a stroke of genius. Her wide-eyed won­der at everything in the world is beau­ti­ful to watch, and the scenes of her joy­fully dis­cov­er­ing everything around her put a big smile on my face.

Though she is “owned” by a lonely waiter, he doesn’t real­ize what has happened and even­tu­ally buys a replace­ment doll. One of the big themes of the film is the idea of sub­sti­tu­tion and replace­ment, that in a big and imper­sonal city like Tokyo, it’s easy to feel unim­port­ant. Kore-eda assembles a sup­port­ing cast of neigh­bour­hood char­ac­ters who are all strug­gling with loneli­ness; the old man who sits on the park bench, the single father of a young daugh­ter, the middle-aged hotel clerk wor­ried that a younger woman will soon replace her, the bulimic young woman who refuses to work on her par­ents’ apple farm. Unfortunately, our inter­ac­tions with these char­ac­ters is fleet­ing, giv­ing a cli­mactic scene near the end a little less impact than I think it should have. As well, a few nar­rat­ive threads are con­fus­ing which moment­ar­ily pulls us out of this lovely fable.

Bae Doo Na is abso­lutely fear­less in her per­form­ance, whether she’s naked phys­ic­ally or emo­tion­ally. When the joy of dis­cov­ery inev­it­ably gives way to the pain of rejec­tion and “replace­ment,” I was never less than mes­mer­ized by her per­form­ance and her beauty. The film takes a turn for the tra­gic, as might be expec­ted, but the end­ing is actu­ally some­what upbeat, and through­out, Kore-eda power­fully reminds us that we are not meant to be alone in this world. Visually beau­ti­ful and with a beat­ing emo­tional heart, just like Nozomi, Air Doll is def­in­itely a film I’m eager to catch again soon.


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One Response to Air Doll (Kûki ningyô)

  1. eddie says:

    I’m very intrigued by this film. I’ve seen Doona Bae in another Japanese film called, Linda Linda Linda. She was also great in that movie. Does any­body know when Air Doll will make it to the USA on DVD?

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