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Air Doll

Posted by martinteller on July 11, 2012

Nozomi (Bae Doo-na, of Linda Linda Linda, The Host and some Park films) is an inflatable sex doll who one day develops a heart and comes to life.  Sneaking out while her “owner” works as a waiter, she discovers the world, gets a job at a video store, and falls in love.  Did I deliberately set out to watch this the day after Lars and the Real Girl?  Oh, you bet I did!  But the two have little in common.  Gillespie’s film mildly stretches plausibility, but Koreeda’s film deals in the realm of magic realism (a realm he’s strolled through before, in After Life).

Once Bae develops beyond the early “Small Wonder” robotic stage, she becomes quite an interesting character, part wide-eyed innocence, part introspective sadness.  I imagine it’s a tricky role to pull off, but she manages nicely (her being adorable doesn’t hurt) and the rest of the cast hold their own as well.  The film contains some really intriguing moments, and an unexpected dark turn.  The video store locale provides a little something for the cinephile (Erice and Angelopoulos cozying up to Stand By Me and The Little Mermaid).  Perhaps the film’s greatest asset is cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee, whose work with Tran, Wong, Wen and Hou is outstanding.  He maintains the same level of quality here, and there’s barely a frame in the movie that isn’t beautifully composed.  A few of the special effects are a little rough, but the photographic aspects are lovely.

However, the film traffics in shallow metaphors and equally shallow symbolism.  Koreeda sprinkles the soundtrack with tinkly twee music while ruminating on the stifling loneliness of urban alienation, over and over again.  It’s all pretty blunt, and cases where it might have been expressed with some finesse are often soured by an on-the-nose bit of voiceover.  He also does little with the inherent feminist aspects of his subject matter.  There are traces of it here and there (Nozomi wears skimpy baby doll outfits presumably because that’s all her owner has for her) but it felt like more could have, and should have, been done with it.  James Lee’s The Beautiful Washing Machine is a good counterexample.

There is some sweetness and humor and some of the more unusual moments are satisfying, but in trying to balance the fanciful storyline with the limp social commentary, Koreeda fumbles this one a bit.  Rating: Fair (67)


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