Dolls is an art house film that makes me think script guru Robert McKee was right to say art house is a genre with its own set rules. Dolls has all the right elements: minimal plot, various storylines told out of sequence, lots of silent standing around. For all that, it's a good, ultimately interesting film that sheds light on Japanese culture.
Directed by Takeshi Kitano, Dolls takes its cue from Japanese puppet theatre. After opening with one such show, in which men in black manipulate puppets, the first story begins. The Boss of a successful young salaryman offers him his daughter's hand in marriage. Apparently this is not unusual in Japan, and his colleagues envy him. Trouble is, he's already engaged. He dumps his fiancée, under pressure from his parents, but she attempts suicide. She survives, but is left mentally childlike. The salary man abandons his new bride, and goes off with his original love.
Together they wander Japan, called after by kids, who think they resemble the 'bound beggars,' of Japanese legend. They walk through changing Japanese seasons, blossom, summer, autumn leaves, and snow, all beautifully photographed with stunning use of colour and exceptional imagery. Meanwhile, two other stories tell of a man who is obsessed with a teenage girl pop star, and an elderly yakuza gang boss who goes back to see the girlfriend he abandoned on a park bench many years before.
All the characters are weird, if not insane, driven that way by intense, obsessive love. Like Romeo and Juliet, or Wuthering Heights, the stories in Dolls are emotional, passionate, and end badly for all. Each one is a a reflection of the depth of feeling that makes people follow such an extreme course of action. This is a slow film that is infuriating at first: the pieces make little sense. It's worth sticking with it though, as the various dislocated bits of story eventually add up to something more than good, if less than great. 7/10
Adrian Horrocks (January 2005)
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