Dolls is the latest (tenth) theatrical feature by japanese cinematic genius "Beat" Takeshi Kitano. Sad to say that this episodic film does not live up to any of his former films, and is a rather dull, if pretty, effort that leaves me wishing for more films like Kikujiro no Natsu or Sonatine. The film, which takeshi wrote and directed, but in which he does not appear himself, is just overly sentimental and dragged out for my taste.
The movie is inspired by the traditional japanese art of Bunraku, an ancient form of ritualized puppeteering, which is also featured in the prologue, and the movies' three modern day stories are based on traditional Bunraku stories.
The first story revolves around a young man (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who is about to enter a marriage tohis bosses daughter to make his parents happy, giving up Sawako (Miho Kanno), his true love, who turns insane. Standing before the altar, he realizes his mistake, saves Sawako from the clinic, and binds her to himself with a long red thread (a reference to japanese mythology), since she, still mad, is now totally dependant on him. Thus bound, they go on a journey through all four seasons. Into this story, two more stories are loosely intertwined: One of an old yakuza boss (Tatsuya Mihashi) who remembering a lost love, feels his loneliness and failing health even though he is still powerful and rich; and one about a joung Pop-Idol (Kyoko Fukuda), unhappy even though she is reverred by millions of her fans, and one of her most devoted fans. None of these stories has a happy ending, but as the main story is (very) loosely based on Chikamatsu's 18th-century puppet play about star-crossed lovers, The Courier of Love, this could be expected.
These stories serve to showcase the emotions of loneliness, sadness and above all love, supported by some of the most beautiful sceneries of the japanese countryside. The vistas and colours are captivatingly beautiful, the cinematography is stunning and so it is a pity that the rest of the movie falls short. The acting fails to convince, as does the dialogue, which is contrived and overdramatic (the typical Japanese overacting is sadly not avoided either). The usual approach of strengthening the melodram by removing dialog which was executed so effectively in his former films, fails miserably in this movie. The three episodes are not really connected, but the movie jumps wildly between them as if they were.
The pictures and sceneries are as beautiful as those in Hana-Bi or, and are, in a way, a redeeming feature, but they can't hide the fact, that the characters are dull, and the stories are uninteresting. When I saw the film, I just didn't care about them, unlike the charakters in Takeshi's previous movies. In these movies, the scenery supported the plot and the action. Here, the rest is lacking.
Reading earlier interviews with Takeshi, it becomes clear that he stongly dislikes people like the one's his characters portrey, so one could get the idea that he intended this film to be a payback to some particularly hated archetypes. Maybe the film is a satire disguised as a melodrama, but if so, I didn't get it. The endings for the subplots seem meaningless and random and left me unfulfilled. This is not a knock on the original bunraku stories. Bunraku is captivating and enthralling, but Kitano failed to capture it's spirit.
Pass it by. It doesn't really suck, but it it is very far from good. And it looks pretty. If you want to see the softer side of Takeshi Kitano, go see the greatly superior Kikujiro instead...