Toying with oral history and narrative art, Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls begins with a lovely but disconcertingly long Bunrako performance about the difficult romance between a man and a woman. These dolls are essentially stand-ins for the hungry and devastated lovers from the three intertwining stories that make up the film proper. On his wedding day, Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima) discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Sawako (Miho Kanno), tried to commit suicide after he chose money over love. Guilt-ridden, he reunites with Sawako (now a mental handicap), and together they play the role of “leashed beggars” through the film’s color-coordinated cityscapes and countrysides. In the second story, Hiro (Tatsuya Mihashi), an old yakuza crime boss, returns to a park bench where he once abandoned a girlfriend only to discover that she’s been waiting for him to return for 50 years. And in the third: Haruna (Kyôko Fukada), a cheesy pop star with a fondness for the ocean, is disfigured in a car accident, and though she’s now self-conscious about her face, it doesn’t stop her most devoted fans from wanting to get close to her. These three stories all deal with fame, success, and everlasting love to varying degrees of success, connected by elaborate splashes of color and the occasional crisscrossing characters, none more distracting than a pair of handicapped buddies that recall the comic buffoons from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and Kitano’s own underrated Kikujiro. The director’s images are sumptuous and refined, but like the film’s rail-thin narratives and constant cutaways to symbolic memento moris, they’re too precious for their own good. Because Kitano undervalues Matsumoto and Sawako’s past together, he makes it difficult for the audience to truly buy them as lovers. Equally problematic is the outmoded sexual roles the men and women seem to play out throughout these stories. These characters are thoroughly modern but behave like ghosts from some kind of ancient Kubuki story. Using art and violence as contrast and moral barometer, Kitano is great at examining and breaking down cultural and sexual boundaries, but Dolls merely plays out like a work of hegemonic reinforcement.
The cover of Palm Pictures's DVD release of Takeshi Kitano's Dolls is gorgeous but somewhat misleading considering the director's signature explosions of color are few and far between. Though the image quality on the disc is not as vibrant as I expected, it still doesn't suffer from the typical softness that plagues other titles in the studio's catalog. This may actually be the company's best-looking release to date: Skin tones are accurate and blacks are deep, and while dirt and specks are visible in spots, their appearance is unobtrusive-in fact, they almost seem to add to the incredibly crisp, film-like presentation.
Interviews with Takeshi Kitano, stars Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijima, and the film's costume designer, the great Yohji Yamamoto. Rounding things off: the film's theatrical trailer, weblinks, and trailers for Dig!, Bright Future, Reconstruction, and The Nomi Song.
Disappointing by Takeshi Kitano's typically excellent standards but the film's DVD cover sure is purty!