Air Doll continues Hirokazu Koreeda’s work in depicting love, loss and the frailty of human existence with a melancholic and heart aching adult fairytale, which shows promise throughout but fails to fully reach its potential to inspire.
Nobody Knows and After Life in particular brought the world’s attention to the emotional work of Koreeda’s particularly personal brand of love and loss. Continuing in that trend comes Air Doll, a quirky tale of an object of indulgence come to life.
Hideo lives a contented existence as a quiet waiter, solitary and comfortably so. His lonely life is accompanied by his relationship with Nozomi, a constant presence when he returns home from work. However, Nozomi is not alive, and instead is a sex doll that has taken an all too real influence on Hideo’s personal existence. He talks to it, shares meals with it whilst discussing his day, and falls asleep in its arms. The emotionality of the accompanying music in these opening scenes belies any sinister or perverted connotations, but merely affirms his life’s artificial fulfillment, and the normality of this life for him. However, events change when one morning Nozomi wakes as a sentient being, with a new world to explore and experience.
Her initial forays into the outside world are unsurprising, as she mimics children, as well as the speech of those she encounters. Her childlike nature is accompanied but a stilted comedic performance, as Doona Bae attempts to imitate the artificial movements of a walking doll. This quirky performance is anything but understated, and the obvious fakery of her existence seems lost on the characters that she encounters. In order to experience a life away from Hideo, Nozomi gets a job in a video store, where no one seems to even notice her lack of real world knowledge, or poor communication skills. Whilst this is clearly used to make Nozomi’s transition narratively simpler, welcoming her into a relationship with Junichi, a co-worker at the shop, the forced ignorance of all those concerned becomes extremely grating at times.
The new experiences, and fascinated reactions, of Nozomi take up the majority of the film, as her journey brings into focus the difficulties (and loneliness) of urban living. Bae’s performance is both quirky and emotional, as sadness enters her new life as the film progresses. However, her childish naivety becomes tiresome, and with the supporting performances failing to gain anywhere near as much interest, the film too becomes lackluster in appeal. This problem is made worse by the overly generous running time, which is bordering on marathon length for what is basically a good idea stretched too far.
There are good points about the film, with Koreeda shooting the film beautifully throughout, and its easy to ignore its pretension and embrace Air Doll, but sadly not for the full running length. The melancholic atmosphere is meaningful, but with the film’s slow approach taking an age to build to anything of worth, Air Doll is more an endurance test than an enjoyable feature. However, its comedic charm comes across at times and with some interesting points to consider on urban living and , some may find it worthy of its generous running time.
The film is available on DVD from 26th November 2012.
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