|Kûki ningyô 2009 Japan Air Doll|
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.
Summary: Middle-aged Hideo lives alone with an inflatable doll he calls Nozomi. The doll is his closest companion: he dresses it up, talks to it over dinner, and has sex with it. However, unbeknown to Hideo, Nozomi was created with a heart. After Hideo leaves for work each day, Nozomi dresses in her maid's outfit and explores the world outside their apartment with a sense of child-like wonder. She encounters various city residents who metaphorically are as "empty inside" as she is. When Nozomi meets Junichi, who works at a local video store, she falls in love with him and gets a part-time job at the store. She learns about the world through the movies she watches with Junichi, but her happiness with him is interrupted by a dramatic turn of events.
Director Koreeda has stated that the film is about the loneliness of urban life and the question of what it means to be human.