With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, March 02, 2012

ACF 1365: AIR DOLL

Air Doll / Kuki ningyo
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring BAE Doo-na
Japan, 2009, 125 minutes
When: Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM
Where: Japan Society
333 East 47th Street, NY, NY
Between 1st and 2nd Avenues

Nozomi is the name given to the titular character of this marvelous film. She is, as she will come to describe herself, “an air doll. A substitute for handling sexual desire.” Her owner is a lowly, put-upon restaurant waiter whom we meet in the film’s beautiful, opening shot as he rides home from work in an elevated subway late at night. For him, Nozomi is not just a means to sexual release, but also a companion, someone he can dress in various outfits, sit at his kitchen table with, and talk to.

"Beau-ti-ful"

One day, after her owner has left, some wind chimes gently tinkle, Nozomi’s eyes blink once, and she comes to life. Slowly she moves to an open window and looks out. Some drops of water fall from the edge of the window onto her extended hand. In a brilliant sleight-of-hand transition, she brings her hand back towards her, gazes at the moisture, and utters her first word – “Beau-ti-ful.” She then tries on various outfits before settling on a maid’s uniform, in which she makes her “maiden voyage” into the world outside. In her wanderings she comes upon Cinema Circus, a video rental store. She manages to get a job there and a relationship begins to develop between her and a young male video clerk. When she returns home in the evening, as far as her owner can tell, she is still the inanimate object he’s always known her to be.

Note the "seams"

The film, based on a manga by Yoshiie Goda, proceeds to explore the human condition through the eyes and mind of this innocent, a creature who one day has unexpectedly found herself “with a heart.” It is replete with absolutely wonderful touches and details. For example, when she first comes to life, we can see the “seams” along her neck, shoulder, arms and torso where her plastic parts are joined. Or when a child takes her hand and remarks that it’s cold.

Nozomi pumps herself up.

Perhaps the most touching revelation occurs when she falls off a ladder at work and receives a “cut” on one arm. Lying on the floor, she slowly begins to deflate. Her co-worker, surprisingly unperturbed, puts a piece of scotch tape over her tear and re-inflates her by blowing into her belly button valve. This form of “artificial respiration” fills her in a way that is amazingly sensual, fulfilling her in a way the male sex organ can never approach.

"Floating"

Not to take away from Kore-eda’s direction or Mark Lee Ping-bing’s fine cinematography, the lion’s share of the success of this film is due to yet another terrific performance by Korean actress BAE Doona. She is well known to Western audiences for her roles in such films as Take Care of My Cat (2001), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Linda Linda Linda (2005), and The Host 2006.

Nozomi visits the place where she was created.

Ms. BAE does a marvelous job here of imbuing Nozomi with life in such a way that we, the viewers, are fully aware of her evolution, her becoming more and more human. As a result, we are compelled to consider -- along with her -- what it means to be alive, to "have a heart," and to love and be love. Both funny and touching, humorous and poignant, Air Doll is a film that well deserves to be seen. ACF Rating; 3.5 out of 4 stars, very highly recommended.

Air Doll will be shown as part of the Globus Film Series Love Will Tear Us Apart, which starts tonight (Friday) at Japan Society. For information about the series, including film descriptions, showtimes, and online purchasing of tickets, click here.

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