From Fantasia’s Classic section, comes Air Doll. One would expect an absurd comedy, but Hirokazu Kore-eda turns his oeuvre into a poetic Hans Christian Anderson-esque tragedy. Though he based his work on the manga by Yoshiie Gōda, Kuuki Ningyo, he has concocted his own vision that differs from the original story.
What happens when overnight, a man’s sex doll develops a heart? With the eyes of a child, she explores small streets and interacts with random strangers. Blow-up doll Nozomi, was named after her owner’s ex-girlfriend. She is an empty substitute. But she soon discovers that she isn’t the only one who is hollow inside. Human city dwellers too, are void entities that don’t seem particularly excited about the lives they lead. Everyone she encounters seems to need other humans; unable to fulfill life alone.
The 2009 film doesn’t feel all that dated, and the area of Tokyo in which it takes place has remained more or less the same even until now. Kore-eda’s creation is a surprisingly timeless critique on modern Tokyo society.
Bae Doona – a Korean star – was selected for the role of Nozomi because Kore-eda didn’t believe any Japanese actresses would willingly play the role of an oft-nude sex doll. He chose wisely. Bae is one of those artists that performs with her eyes. Though one might attribute her impossibly huge orbs to Korean plastic surgery, as the film progresses, we see it is more a talent than an aesthetic. She is convincing as a doll because she has the uncanny ability to rarely blink on camera. As Nozomi gains more knowledge about life, her eyes seem to shrink to ordinary size.
The climax is artfully gruesome, and reminds the viewer that hollow humans are often too numb to feel their own pain. From this moment on, Nozomi seems to mentally deflate as life starts to lose its (fl)air. A stunning finale loops together a lot of symbols which were so carefully laid out they may have been overlooked by the viewer. Spiritually ‘deflated’, Nozomi lays next to a dying dandelion as an onlooker admires her hollow beauty. The pace of the elements all coming together reminds us of the conclusion of Kore-eda’s After Life (which screened at Fantasia 1998).
Air Doll – available On Demand until September 2nd, 2020