DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
DOLLS (DOORUZU) (director/writer: Takeshi Kitano; cinematographer: Katsumi Yanagishima; editor: Takeshi Kitano; music: Joe Hisaishi; cast: Miho Kanno (Sawako), Hidetoshi Nishijima (Matsumoto), Miho Kanno (Sawako), Tatsuya Mihashi (Hiro the Boss), Chieko Matsubara (Ryoko, Woman in the Park), Kyoko Fukada (Haruna the Pop Star), Tsutomu Takeshige (Nukui the Fan); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Masayuki Mori/Takio Yoshida; Palm Pictures; 2002-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"Kitsch art."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Maverick Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano made the mawkish arthouse Dolls between Brother and The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichitakes. It's a highly stylized triptych of sad love stories that overlap and are inspired by the puppeteering in the traditional Bunraku doll theater, before it picks up from there to the live action stories. Playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon's (1653-1725) three stories are set in contemporary times and are only connected because each protagonist chose work over love and now have second thoughts about their choice since they are all greatly pained and are searching for what they have bitterly lost. 

Visually it's a masterpiece, as it goes through the four seasons splashing onscreen an array of wondrously rich colors that are mesmerizing. But the stories are unbearably sentimental and border on kitsch art. How much you enjoy the film depends on your toleration for artificial devices employed in the storytelling. 

After the puppet show, showing the black-clad puppeteers working the strings, it opens to live characterizations (where we don't see the filmmaker working the strings) when handsome careerist businessman Matsumoto leaves at the altar his bride-to-be, the daughter of the CEO, in a corporate approved marriage, and rushes to the hospital to visit his former girlfriend Sawako--dumped because his family was more concerned with his career than love. Sawako attempted suicide over his abandonment and is now unable to mentally function as an adult but responds to child's toys. To protect her from straying off into traffic, Matsumoto binds her to his waist with a long red rope as they wander almost comatose as beggars all over the countryside in an act of bizarre madness until they fall off a cliff in a snowy setting. In the second tale an aging yakuza, Hiro, returns to Saitama Park to where as a young man he met every Saturday afternoon on the park bench with a woman who brought him a homemade lunch. The woman, Ryoko, is obviously mental, as some fifty years later she still comes to the same park bench on Saturdays with a prepared lunch to meet her boyfriend. In the last tale, a young female pop star, Haruna, at the peak of her bubblegum career, gets disfigured in a traffic accident and withdraws from the world. She takes comfort only in being with a fan, Nukui, who blinds himself as an act of devotion and so he won't look upon her less than beautiful face but only remember her how she was. The third story was particularly hard to digest, not that the others weren't. 

None of the three melancholy allegories, though certainly elegant, moved me as anything more than soap opera melodramatics taken to the utmost of pretense to depict devoted love in the form of sacrifice and tragedy. But the overall effect because of the stunning innovative visuals were truly hypnotic and left a solemnly deep impression that the Japanese landscapes were holy and that Japanese filmmaking has pushed the boundaries in the world of cinematography--think Hero, Kung Fu Hustle and House of Flying Daggers. 

REVIEWED ON 5/24/2005        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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