Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It would seem that I’m partial to the films of Takeshi Takano, be it his violent action pictures such as ‘Violent Cop’ or his American film ‘Brother’, or his slice of life psuedo family pictures such as Kikujiro, or even over top samurai flicks like ‘Zatochi’.  I find his thoughtful treatise ‘Dolls’ to be no exception as this somewhat slow moving, beautiful and tragic story enchanted me.


The Japanese have a traditional puppet show known as ‘banruku’ in which elaborate dolls, controlled by puppet masters, act out tragedies that are recited by a narrator.    The film opens with said show, and soon we are introduced to their real life tragic counterparts.  Young Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is engaged to Sawako (Miho Kanno), but at the behest of his parents, and against his better judgement, he dumps Sawako and decides to marry the boss’s daughter, which will secure his future.  Sawako is unable to cope and attempts suicide, which only results in severe brain damage.  Wracked with guilt and minutes away from his own wedding, Matsumoto frees her from her institution and vows never to leave her again.  As Sawako now has the mind of an infant, she tends to wander off into danger, so Matsumoto ties a rope between them so he can always keep her near.  The two soon run out of money and they both wander the countryside of Japan, known as the Bound Beggars’. 

In their journey, they in passing meet a Yakuza gangster who laments on the love he left behind many years ago, who claimed she would wait for him every Saturday with his favorite lunch.  And wait she did.  We also meet a pop star whose face is ruined in a car accident and an obsessed fan that goes to extreme lengths to meet her on her terms.

Truth be told, this is a film that may not appeal to everyone.  It moves at a deliberate pace, and features Kitano’s signature style of lingering on a subject long after it’s left the scene.  But the care that is taken with the subject matter and the beauty of which Japan is filmed is breathtaking.  This is person who loves, and is in love with his land and displays it in its most awe-inspiring light.  But in this beauty, tragedy takes the center stage, and it is this dichotomy that carries the film.  To what lengths must you go to find love, and when it is lost, what does one have to do to get it back.  This also is film that may require multiple viewings to get the numerous messages that underlie in the subtext. 

So if you should tire of the sequels, remakes, and TV show redo’s, allow the enlightened ‘Dolls’ wash over you and give it a chance.

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