Dolls, from Japanese hardman Takeshi Kitano, is a ’12’ film. When you first play the DVD you go, ‘Oh, shit, this is a puppet show’. And indeed the introductory puppet show, a Japanese art form called Buraku does go on in its over-dramatised, wailing way for what seems like too long; but persevere and take note, it all makes sense later on.
The major thrust of the story concerns Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima). He is a proper scumbag. What? (Yeah, a rotten, cheating scumbag.) He agrees to an arranged marriage with the boss’ girl even after he had just announced his marriage to Sawako (Miho Kanno). Understandably, she is annihilated by this news and attempts suicide. Discovering what has become of Sawako, Matsumoto flees his marriage ceremony to be with her. Their former romance continues in a very bizarre fashion.
But that’s not the whole story. There is a yakuza boss Hiro who left his love in the lurch when he decided to better himself. She vowed to wait for him… and 30 years later, in their favourite park, on the day she always waits. There is also the heartrending story of life of pop starlet Haruna who is disfigured in a car wreck… her number one fan Nukui makes her feel a lot better with his gut-wrenching act of devotion. And still there’s Matsumoto and Sawako – they call them ‘bound beggars’ – staggering to their final destiny.
As Kitano describes in his interview (in the DVD extras section), his films are usually a blue-grey palette – but not this one. Dolls gleams with light and colour and cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima brings out the best of the Japanese seasons and scenery. The musical score by Jô Hisaishi is decidedly American Beauty in atmosphere, minimalistic and romantic with a staunchly Japanese flavour.
There’s a vast series of interesting features and intriguing interviews with the director and the main cast in the extras section. Dolls DVD special features are: Takeshi Kitano interview – Kitano is a very shy person but a director who expressed the very extremes of personal emotion. He sits there twitching and uncomfortable looking and exudes true command of his art. He also talks about his colour theory and what motivated him to make Dolls; it is a very revealing interview. Miho Kanno interview –
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lead actress Kanno gushes about the power of the director to enthral and inspire the cast and crew. She then goes into more detail about her role. Hidetoshi Nishijima interview – acting lead Nishijima tells how terrified he was on first meeting Kitano, as he is a very powerful Japanese celebrity. He then goes into more detail about the shooting of the film and his role. Yohji Yamamoto interview – dress designer Yamamoto talks about the contemporary influences on his costumes, his six-year friendship with Kitano and a discussion of the four seasons themselves.
Monzaemon Chikamatsu – “Chikamatsu is regarded as Japan’s Shakespeare…” begins this two-page appraisal. Using backdrop stills from Dolls, it goes on to explain the 17th century playwright’s themes of mad love and doomed characters. Bunraku – is Japanese doll theatre, and this four-pager tells the history of the art, and goes on to explain how there is now a fixed home for Bunraku in Tokyo’s National Theatre (reminding one again of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre). Finally, there’s a Takeshi Kitano filmography, and a trailer.