Japan, 2009, 116 minutes
Fri, Apr 30 / 9:15 / Kabuki / AIR30K
Sun, May 02 / 6:00 / Kabuki / AIR02K
Well-known for such contemplative films about human nature as After Life (SFIFF 1999), Distance (SFIFF 2002) and Nobody Knows (2004), Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with possibly his most surprising work to date, an anti–fairy tale about an air doll that suddenly comes to life in modern, lonesome Tokyo. Korean actress Bae Doo-na, whose roles in such films as Linda Linda Linda and The Host have made her a cult icon, stars as the titular doll, bought by a quiet loner for companionship. Emerging into life, she escapes his hermit’s apartment and seeks out the modern world; what she discovers, however, is a city of isolation, where both men and women have retreated into their own fantasies. In lesser hands the story might have simply been an excuse to showcase Bae Doo-na in assorted fetish outfits or for a feel-good fairy tale with happily-ever-afters attached, but Kore-eda is interested in far more, turning the material into a melancholy, philosophical critique of social life. “What lies deep down below are the questions about human nature,” he notes. “Can people fulfill their own emptiness? What is the meaning of life? What is a human being?” Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing (In the Mood for Love; Flowers of Shanghai, SFIFF 1999) gives the pop-gloss of 21st-century life a particularly ethereal, floating-world allure, adding further power to this moving portrait of love, loneliness and companionship.
Presented with support from the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco and The Japan Foundation.