Dolls (2002) is the third of several films – by the acclaimed Japanese director Takeshi Kitano – being released by Third Window Films this year. I reviewed the other Kitano films released by Third Window Films so far – Hana-bi and Kikujiro earlier this year – so feel I have some idea (albeit not expert) of his directorial style. In short, it’s surreal, bittersweet and a little erratic.
Dolls is much more dark and, at times, depressing than Hana-bi and Kikujiro but there is very little comedy or happy endings to alleviate the tension. The film comprises three loosely overlapping stories about love, its potential to send us mad and the regret it can leave us with (a cheery thought). In the first, a young couple struggle to rediscover the love they have lost following him dumping her for a high-powered career and her attempting suicide. As they wander around, they lap over with two other stories – about a yakuza pining for his lost love and a loner policeman’s obsession with a disfigured idol.
I was intrigued by the plot but, as the film moved further along, I found myself losing interest. Kitano does much-timed comedy very well but it is lacking in Dolls, partly because it feels like there isn’t much dialogue to begin with (especially in the first story) but also because the characters themselves aren’t as loveable. I didn’t find myself rooting for anyone in the same way I did in Hana-bi, for example, and the stories jump from one to the other very suddenly. The individual stories are moving in their own way but I don’t think any of them would have held my attention for an entire film, hence the possible need to fit three stories in.
The saving grace for this film, for me, was the soundtrack and setting. Jo Hisaishi’s musical genius is obviously recognised by Kitano, with this being the third film he composed for, and Kitano certainly has a talent for creating atmosphere through staging and setting.
If you’re a fan of Takeshi Kitano and already familiar with his work, Dolls is still worth checking out. However, in my opinion this particular film does not show him at his best. I still enjoyed watching it as a fan of Japanese cinema and someone keen to find out more about Kitano’s talent.
Third Window Films have announced they’ll be releasing two more Kitano films this year – A Scene at the Sea and Kids Return. The first 1,000 copies of each come with a limited edition slipcase, so get those pre-orders in.