Review by Camden Ferrell
Hirokazu Kore-eda is a Japanese filmmaker who received widespread attention for his 2018 movie Shoplifters which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and earned an Academy Award nomination. Air Doll is Kore-eda’s 2009 film that is based on a manga by Yoshiie Goda. It approaches familiar topics and themes with an eccentric twist that make this an ultimately enlightening experience even if it has a hard time maintaining its momentum.
Hideo is a man who lives alone with his sex doll Nozomi. She is his best friend with Hideo spending a lot of her time in private and in public with her. One day, while Hideo is at work, Nozomi comes to life and decides to explore the outside world. There, she meets people, gets a job, and learns about humanity and what it means to be alive. This is an interesting albeit initially off-putting way to explore these common themes.
One of the things that stands out about this movie is how it takes its eccentric premise and treats it with a lot of care. Kore-eda doesn’t make a joke out of its inherent absurdity, but he opts to address it with the same humanity as any other movie. This allows the film to overcome some of the narrative barriers it may inherently face otherwise. While his handling of the material is solid, the script can sometimes lack the insight that is warranted about the film’s themes.
The film is propelled by a great leading performance from Bae Doona. She has proven her talents many times in the past, and this role is another testament to her abilities. She plays the titular doll well, and she is able to capture the feeling of experiencing the world for the first time. Even when the film drags, her performance is still something to appreciate.
The film starts very strong as the plot goes into motion, but it loses a lot of steam about halfway through. While it finishes strong, the middle section of the movie can bog down the overall viewing experience. Regardless, its ending is powerful and melancholy in a richly unique way thanks to the premise and execution by its actor and director.
Air Doll is an unconventional movie to say the least. However, if you can be open-minded towards its titular character, you may find yourself surprised with how touching the movie occasionally proves to be. It may not be the crowning achievement of Kore-eda’s career, but it’s worth checking out.
Air Doll is in theaters and on VOD February 4.