A life-size blow-up doll develops a soul and falls in love with a video store clerk.
User Reviews: Korean actress Bae Doo-na is superb in Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film Air Doll. Shown at the Vancouver Film Festival, Air Doll is based on the Japanese manga The Pneumatic Figure of a Girl and tells the story of a life-size inflatable doll used as a sex object for a lonely waiter who finds a heart and becomes a real person. The film is supported by the enchanting photography of Mark Lee Ping-bing who worked with Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wei in In the Mood for Love, and poetic images abound. When the film opens, Hideo (Itao Itsuji), returns from work as a waiter and begins a conversation about his day and everything seems normal until we discover that he is talking to a doll propped up in bed that he calls Nozomi, (the name of his former girl friend). Though she is a mannequin, he tells her about his life, gives her a bath, dresses her, and has sex with her each night.
One morning, Nozomi (Bae Doo-na) wakes up and finds her heart and is transformed, at least as far as appearances are concerned, into an ordinary human being. Displaying the innocence of a child, Nozomi, dressed in a French chambermaid’s uniform, goes out to explore the outside world and finds out what it means to be human (and how society treats women), picking up patterns of speech from neighbors, but comes home each night to resume her roll as the compliant inanimate doll for her master. Nozomi soon lands a job in a video store and quickly learns about movies though she has never seen one and develops a friendship with the attendant Junichi (Arata), while continuing to believe that her only function is to provide sexual pleasure.
Promoting the idea that everyone is empty at their core and must be fulfilled by the companionship of others, Koreeda introduces a host of minor characters such as an old poet who feels betrayed by the world, the doll maker who created her, a woman fearful of being left alone, and a bitter old woman. Junichi abruptly learns about Nozomi’s non-human status, however, when she falls and pricks her arm and all the air is drained out of her. In a very erotic scene, Junichi inflates her by blowing air into the plug in her stomach and their relationship is sweet. Nozomi discovers, however, that being half human and half doll is not fulfilling and wishes to become fully human but cannot find anyone to help her, turning to her maker (God?) for assistance.
Air Doll is a sweet, sad fable about the loss of innocence and Bae Doo-na is funny and touching in the role of a childlike doll in the tradition of Pinocchio. While it is valuable to view the world from a childlike perspective and discover once again, for example, how beautiful the stars are, having a mannequin eventually become a mirror of humanity’s dark side serves little purpose. Yes, life is ugly and beautiful, sad and full of joy, but this is hardly a revelation. The film, which took nine years from planning stages until completion, has important comments about alienation in the modern world, but at two hours the simple premise is stretched too thin. Koreeda makes the point repeatedly about the emptiness of humans, forgetting that cities are home not only to lonely, alienated, and empty people but to brilliant, fulfilled, and compassionate individuals who contribute much value to our world.