I first encountered Itao Itsuji (板尾 創路) while watching Gaki no Tsukai batsu games. He is a Japanese comedian well known for having a very odd sense of humor and the guys at Gaki no Tsukai love to showcase it. He is also an actor and has appeared in over 20 films including Tokyo Gore Police and Love Exposure. I suspect his choice in film roles is influenced by his sense of humor. His latest role comes in the movie Air Doll and when I first heard about the film I visited YouTube to find out more.
The trailer didn’t offer much insight, but I tracked down a copy of the film and watched it.
Air Doll is about a blow-up sex doll that comes to life. Comparisons to Pinocchio and Mannequin are inviting, but they would not be correct. This movie puts the awkwardness of reality center stage by comparing and contrasting the honey-glazed exteriors people serve in public and the hidden realities underneath the facade. The bright colors and big soundtrack of an American fairy tale are not present in this muted love story.
The doll’s owner, Hideo, is a lonely, middle-aged man with a dead-end job and seemingly no friends. His only source for companionship is his doll. When his doll, which he’s named Nozomi, awakes the movie shifts focus to her perspective. It is one filled with naivete and questions about the meaning of life, love, and soul. Her search for answers leads her through meeting other people in Hideo’s neighborhood and, eventually, her creator. The movie takes on a honey-dipped form of existentialism.
The movie begins to feel long as this exploration into humanity seems to try very hard at answering questions indirectly, but with meaning. If you’re the type who enjoys such explorations this will be an entertaining ride. If you’re impatient and prefer the Michael Bay approach to movies you’ll find yourself bored within the first hour and should probably steer clear of this one.
Some may feel that the movie is too long at just over two hours, but I think the length benefits the movie. There is a moment in this movie when things go wrong. And when things go wrong it happens at the same, slow pace that the movie operates at. There is no fanfare or bright flash or other thing to indicate that things have gone very wrong. Instead viewers are allowed to come to this realization at their own pace. It’s an experience I think is made all the more visceral because the movie lulls you into its arms and you trust it implicitly and then things go wrong.
I liked it. It’s a brutal exercise in humanity with an odd twist and a Japanese flavor. However it’s not a film I would recommend to anyone in my family. I don’t think they’d get past the whole guy fucking a blow-up sex doll and then washing it up like you would dishes after a meal. But my friends would be totally into that.
It is available on DVD if you go looking for it, but there should be a more accessible American release soon.