It seems that every time I mentioned that I’d seen Kitano Takeshi’s latest effort and liked it, someone said “You must be the only one!” I’d then have to point out that no, I wasn’t the only one, and if they’d seen it themselves they’d be able to offer an informed opinion. ‘Twas an education for me in how rumours get started.
So let’s deal with my impression of Dolls. Tearing into the bad stuff first, it did drag in places. Yes yes yes, we’d all sigh, we know those roped-up lovers are trudging through another scenic Japanese landscape. Yes, they will occasionally be ridden out of town on a rail, or at least pelted with stones by small children until they got bored (the stone-throwing children, that is. It was hard to tell if our lovers even noticed the stone-throwing, or whether they were awake at all). We know that the rope, beautiful soft red wool by the looks of it, will drag along the ground in a fashion which undoubtedly evokes feelings of something in souls less twitchy than mine. But could they just bloody well get on with it, please?
Another criticism levelled at this film, in my opinion unjustly, was that it was “un-Kitano”. I suspect that some folks expected a fine yakuza film in the tradition of Violent Cop, and were bitterly disappointed to find that this film contained not a hint of gristly yakuza action. In my never ‘umble, however, it was a quintessentially Kitano film: the lush visual scapes, the air of distant melancholy, and the absurdist moments that occur behind the characters and are never dwelled upon, are all features that evoke Kitano for me.
The treatment of the characters was also strongly redolent of the Kitano touch: characters make their mistakes and just go on. There are no makeovers in Kitano’s world, no miracles, no wand-wielding fairy to fix everything you break. There’s just a quagmire to be navigated, day after day, as the mess you’ve got yourself into draws you inexorably deeper. This is the only film I’ve seen that attempts to draw a connection between ordinary people and wandering nutcases, emphasising the humanity of the seemingly strange by showing that we could all end up there. And that is what makes it achingly sad: the initial scenes in the car, the fiance still trying to draw his fiancee back into the ordinary world while drifting further into her disjointed one, just break my heart. The gradual degradation, both slipping into their near-mute, impassive wandering existence, draws them together as they abandon the ordinary world.
The lovers drift through the lives of others, gently bridging the three stories without making a pretentious fuss of it (unlike some directors I could name). And each story is a melancholy ode to repentance, longing, and the fact that sometimes, you just can’t fix things. I suspect this is what disturbs many people, but for me it had the poignant sadness that marks true tragedy.
Just a word about the cast. Nishijima, as the salaryman who chooses his boss’s daughter over his true love, is handsome but unremarkable. Kanno, on the other hand, is luminous in the early scenes and mournfully broken in the latter. If you’ve never been lucky enough to see Kanno, you don’t know what you’re missing: she has an enchanting smile, crooked teeth and all, that must make everyone with a pulse fall in love with her. And to watch this enchanting pixie go through the straits of despair and end up a pliant shell is heartbreaking.
I won’t tell you the final scenes, because you’d have to see for yourself, but it must be one of the finest endings I’ve seen in a while. Overall, too, the film left me thoughtfully melancholy, and I suspect that it would improve on subsequent viewings.