Vancouver 09: AIR DOLL Review
Hirokazu Koreeda is one of today's most consistently excellent filmmakers, with his recent movies Still Walking and Nobody Knows being critical hits worldwide. Because of this, it seems strange to say that the brilliance of his latest, Air Doll, comes as a surprise...but, it sort of does. Perhaps because I expected something enjoyable, well-made but probably slight in comparison to his other works (like his light-hearted samurai lark, Hana). Needless to say, I was very wrong. Air Doll is, of course, adorable and funny--but it also achieves a devastating wallop of unexpected pathos by the end of its runtime.
Bae Doona gives a fantastic performance a Nozomi, the love doll companion to a boring, sleazy but essentially harmless middle-aged man. Within the first minutes of the movie, she inexplicably comes to life; not because of some magic wish or cinematic gimmick. She simply, as she herself puts it, "found a heart". The scenes that follow as Nozomi sneaks out of the apartment to explore the world are not exactly innovative (tasting food, not knowing what a movie is, imitating the moves of others in order to fit in) but Koreeda's magical, playful approach and Doona's charm make it all feel fresh.
Interestingly, instead of feeling any kind of love or even loyalty for her master, Nozomi hides her newfound life from him, and falls for a young video store clerk instead. Being around him puts her on cloud 9, and she develops a joie de vivre that affects everyone around her--including, of course, the audience. It's shortly after this that her carriage starts turning back into a pumpkin. Without spoiling too much, I'll just say that the movie becomes much more nightmare than fantasy, and shifts tones so completely that it almost feels like a different film all together. It also features one of the most gut-wrenchingly sad endings I've seen in a good, long while.
The movie's symbolism
gets a bit heavy-handed at times (she's empty, everyone else is empty too, we
could have gotten that without a line stating it explicitly) but it's more than
forgivable considering how masterful the rest of it happens to be. Koreeda is
at the top of his game, and this may be my favorite movie of the year so far. Bring
Review by Teresa Nieman
- Hirokazu Koreeda
- Yoshiie Goda (manga)
- Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
- Doona Bae
- Arata Iura
- Itsuji Itao
- Joe Odagiri