Air Doll 空気人形 (Kuki ningyo) [2009] • Japan

If you're thinking: "Oh, those wacky Japanese. A movie about a blow-up doll who, keenly aware that her function is to provide sexual pleasure, comes to life. That'll be fun!", you will be surprised, if not disappointed, by this film. Du-na Bae does a few scenes in her birthday suit, and spends most of the rest of the film in cute little outfits with very short skirts—one of them being the maid's uniform you see in the poster—but there isn't much that's erotic, let alone prurient, about this film at all. It's sad and melancholy. And innocent.

There are three things that contribute to the superbity (yep, I'm going with it) of this film. The first is the cinematography by Mark "Pin Bing" Lee. Remember that name. If he's the director of photography on a film, you can count on it at least looking good. The second is the soundtrack by World's End Girlfriend—which is actually just one guy who specializes in other-worldly noise experiments with hints of jazz and classical. His work here creates a hip, contemporary, and dreamlike atmosphere, and since this is a film about the emptiness and isolation of modern life, it's a good thing. The third contributing factor is the masterstroke of casting Du-na Bae as the Air Doll. It's hard to think of another actress who could have made such a success of the role. Bae is a fearless, talented, versatile actress and she also somewhat looks the part with her large expressive anime inspired eyes. She's also Korean, giving her a head start playing a fish out of water in this Japanese film. There are few actors who can convincingly run through a range of several emotions in a matter of seconds without moving a muscle in their faces. Bae is one of those actors, and she does it often.

The film starts right off with the Air Doll inexplicably "finding a heart" and coming to life. She sneaks out during the day, while her owner is at work, to discover the world and its characters. She gets a job at a video store and when one day she accidentally cuts herself, and starts losing air instead of bleeding, a co-worker who seems completely non-plussed by the event puts a piece of tape on the tear and blows her back up. They fall in love. If there is one sexy scene in the film, in a sort of convoluted way, it's when the two "make love". The guy wants to take off the tape and watch her lose air and then watch her re-animate by blowing her up again. When the Air Doll wants to do the same by cutting the guy, things don't turn out as she expects. Bae plays the scene in a very convincing way.

Air Doll has a slow pace and a number of characters seem to just float by without explanation but when it's all over they will have made sense. The central conceit of the film doesn't hold up to scrutiny if you think about it too much so if any of these kinds of things bother you, take a pass. There is also an extended scene where the Air Doll meets her maker. The director seems to have wanted to use this meeting to explain the film, "Aren't we all just empty vessels"? Although the scene is a touching one, I could have done without it, not only because it would have tightened up the film, but also because I don't like it when directors make beautiful films and muck them up with verbal explanations of what they are trying to present metaphorically.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Du-na Bae, Arata, Itsuji Itao, Jo Odagiri, Sumiko Fuji

IMDb 7.6 (162 votes)

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