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Original Title:
Kki ningy

Japan 2009


Hirokazu Koreeda

Bae Doo-na
Itsuji Itao
J Odagiri
Sumiko Fuji
Miu Naraki
Tomomi Maruyama

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Air Doll

Story: Nozomi (Bae Doo-na) never leaves the house, except when her boyfriend Hideo (Itsuji Itao) takes her with him. She never talks and also doesn't do any household chores. Only in bed at night she has to be at her boyfriend's disposal. But that's only natural as Nozomi is an air doll. One day she suddenly starts to move, though, and gets to know the world. While her boyfriend, or rather owner, is at work, she secretly sneaks out of the house and discovers something new every day. Eventually, she even starts to work at a DVD shop. There she makes friends with Junichi (Arata), for whom she soon has romantic feelings. Nozomi has a soul now but this only seems to give her pain. What is her heart for and how can she get rid of that inner emptiness of hers? The air doll who came to life slowly starts to realize that she isn't the only one who has that inner emptiness within. Still, there are a lot of things that distinguish her from normal people. Maybe the search for the maker of her will get her an answer. Or her love for Junichi.

Review: In a world in which people carry around inner emptiness and oftentimes feel as if air is leaking out of them Nozomi serves as a metaphor for the suffering and loneliness of city people. She is an air doll who one day comes to life and thus without a doubt points back to the well known story of the wooden doll Pinocchio. Suddenly, without any rational explanation, she has a soul and tries to find out what it means to live. Even though there are also beautiful moments she savors it is more than anything else pain she feels and so especially at the beginning the possession of a soul or heart is synonymous with suffering for her. In her very own way the doll now goes on a search for the meaning in life.

Director Hirokazu Koreeda ("Still Walking", "After Life") creates an unusual movie with "Air Doll", which concerning its dreaminess reminds us of a fairy tale. With serene pictures he tells a story that at times is also creepy or at least bizarre. How else would you describe Hideo who treats his air doll at home like a real person, talks with her, walks her through the park in a wheelchair and shows her the stars. Nowadays there are also silicone-dolls who look even more real, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a director deals with that subject, too. However, what purpose do these dolls serve? They are girlfriend substitutes and sex toys. Accordingly, there is also a touch of eroticism running through "Air Doll".

Actress Bae Doo-na ("Barking Dogs Never Bite") is actually a Korean, thanks to her knowledge of Japanese she has already played in the Japanese music band movie "Linda Linda Linda", though. After a screen absence of three years she returns - and is topless in many scenes. The fascinating thing about that, though, is that she shows herself with such naturalness, at times she just lies around naked for minutes, that we immediately believe her to portray an air doll. Her big eyes, which she keeps wide open at all times, also add to that illusion. Her robot-like movements she disposes of later on, moving more naturally eventually, even though there always remains something alienating about her.

Bae does a fantastic job carrying the movie with her subtle acting and keeping it from drifting into ridiculousness and this although she wears a maid costume during the first half of the film. "Air Doll" still is somewhat alienating and it is supposed to be. The mood of the movie is melancholic and you also can't deny that at times it causes a certain amount of depression. Luckily, this is in rotation with some more joyful scenes, e.g. when Nozomi discovers shopping. In its core "Air Doll" is supposed to put loneliness and alienation into its focus. Are we all just substitutes for someone else? As is the case with many of Koreeda's movies the question standing in the spotlight is once again what the meaning in life is and how we can save our soul from imminent deterioration by finding a meaning.

The nice cinematography by Mark Lee Ping-bin, who already put some beautiful pictures to screen with Christopher Doyle for "In the Mood for Love", as well as the good directing of Koreeda and the acting of Bae make "Air Doll" a well achieved drama. The director also tries to portray the loneliness of people by using some additional characters. Sadly those individuals are only touched upon and sometimes even less. But even without them Koreeda has pinpointed a little bit too obviously that most of us carry the same air around as the air doll Nozomi. Sometimes less is just more. Apart from that the ending is only satisfying to a certain degree. Nevertheless, this is an unique piece of work that can make you reflect - as it is often the case with Hirokazu Koreeda's movies.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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