Air Doll (Japan; 116 min.)

directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
starring: Du-na Bae; Arata; Itsuji Itao; Jô Odagiri; Sumiko Fuji
Kûki Ningyô

Michael says: "One day an inflatable air doll, a substitute for sexual pleasure, wakes up to find she has a heart. She is self-animated, self-aware, and filled with wonder as she discovers the world around her. On a meandering sojourn around the neighborhood she wanders into a video rental store and gets herself a job, carefully concealing the fact that she, in fact, made of plastic and filled with air. She returns home each night before her owner arrives from work, but soon grows tired of the sexual acts he performs with her and becomes more fascinated by the parade of humanity that she encounters each day; most particularly the young man with whom she works at the video store. Of course, as we all know, along with wonder and delight, life brings sadness, pain and heartbreak. After she accidentally tears a hole in her arm and her true nature is revealed to her co-worker, he hastily tapes her up and re-inflates her with his own breath. It is at this point that she truly learns what it means to be human, as she falls in love with her benefactor. Her further adventures lead her to an elderly man in the park on a respirator, a woman struggling against aging, a little girl and her harried father, and the man who created her.

"Kore-eda is a master filmmaker, weaving elements of loneliness and alienation into this charming story about the creation of a new life. In parallel to the air doll’s inflatable nature, we see a series of humans who are empty inside, desperately seeking something to fill the void in their hearts. Duna Bae is magnificent as the innocent experiencing life for the first time. Her large eyes grow wider with each miraculous sight she sees, and she capably conveys the joy, confusion and pain of living with each move she makes. Despite the wacky and somewhat salacious premise, Kore-eda is such a life-affirming personality that you know you’re in for something special. 5 cats"

Chris says: "For Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, this is certainly not an obvious follow-up to masterful familial drama STILL WALKING. After all, the main character here is an inflatable sex toy that one morning magically comes to life. It sounds incredibly silly on paper (and I dread any potential American remake), but Kore-eda is a serious filmmaker, and this foray into pure fantasy is affectionate and rather poignant. A lot of the credit goes to Korean actress Doona Bae (THE HOST), who is perfectly cast as the titular character. Cute as a button in her tentative movements and little maid’s uniform, she plays the role as an innocent discovering a strange new world, learning by mimicking everything around her. Kore-eda stretches the premise by introducing additional characters to symbolize the philosophical implications of what it’s like to be an air doll: isolated and expected to serve a function. As a result, for me, the film loses some of its mojo along the way; I would have almost preferred two hours of Bae just bouncing around Tokyo—in those moments, AIR DOLL is as light and graceful as a feather but compelling enough to hold your attention. 4 cats"