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.
- Palm Pictures
- 113 min
- Takeshi Kitano
- Takeshi Kitano
- Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tatsuya Mihashi, Chieko Matsubara, Kyôko Fukada, Tsutomu Takeshige, Nao Omori, Hawking Aoyama, Yuuko Daike, Ren Osugi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Kanji Tsuda
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: