Dir: Takeshi Kitano. 2002. Starring: H. Nishijima, M. Kanno, K. Fukada, T. Mihashi, C. Matsubara. Japanese. Asian Cinema/Foreign

Takeshi Kitano’s directorial works are often separated into two strains where the considerable overlap is conveniently ignored in favor of an artificial dichotomy. On the one hand we have the explosively violent yet introspective crime dramas like Sonatine (ソナチネ), Hana-bi (花-火), and Boiling Point (3-4X10月). Less widely seen (and therefore wrongly characterized) are his quiet, contemplative mood-pieces like A Scene at the Sea (あの夏、いちばん静かな海), Kikujirō no Natsu (菊次郎の夏) and Kids Return (キッズ・リターン). Dolls is usually placed in the latter camp or as an anomaly as its mixture of familiar ingredients (watching the ocean, yakuza, explosive violence, stoic acceptance of tragedy) from both strains is impossible to ignore.

In the first story, Matsumoto spurns his girlfriend Sawako to marry another woman, at his parents’ insistence. Sawako loses both her mind and ability to take care of herself as a result. Matsumoto attempts to fix things by binding himself to her with a red cord. Together they wordlessly wander through stunning, artificial landscapes of amazing beauty steeped with sadness.

In the next story, real life singer Kyoko Fukada (Fukakyon) plays Haruna, a disfigured pop star who spends her days watching the surf after being disposed of by the fickle, superficial J-Pop industry. Nukui, her last remaining fan, proves his devotion and obsession in a manner that is disturbing and self-destructive.

In the final story, Hiro, an aging yakuza, returns to a park where he and his girlfriend used to meet every week before he rejected her to attain fame and fortune on his own. He is surprised to discover that she has been returning with lunch for him every week since.

In Dolls, the focus on the destructive power of love and impervious nature of devotion has led many to suggest that it is uncharacteristic of Kitano. However, the deadpan comedy, nihilism, stoicism, melancholy and even violence are all in evidence here, as they are in all of Kitano’s films. It is not, however, run-of-the-mill. Kitano has rarely embraced theatrical artifice and otherworldly beauty as he has in Dolls. Each tale is summarized by Bunraku dolls who act out stories which are analogues for stories that follow.

In a bit of perverse situational irony Takeshi Kitano’s longtime musical collaborator Hisaishi Joe parted ways with the director after the completion of Dolls. According to the musician, he was unhappy with the film. According to Kitano, the composer’s services had grown too expensive. Whatever the reasons, Dolls stands as one of their greatest collaborations (with special mention to Yohji Yamamoto’s costume designs).

Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Jul 7, 2008 3:16pm
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