Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Chieko Matsubara Kyôko Fukada, Tsutomu Takeshige
Writers: Takeshi Kitano
Costume Designer: Yohji Yamamoto
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Production: 2002, Japan
Runtime: 114 minutes
Before I start reviewing the movie, I think there´s something that you should know from the Japanese culture in order to understand more about the film. The movie starts with a Bunraku performance called “Meido No Hikyaku” (or “The Couriers for Hell”) written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu. Do you see why I have to explain some things? So let us go little by little. (If you prefer to skip the Encyclopedia part, just read Part 2)
Is a theatrical representation with puppets very traditional in Japan along with the well known Kabuki and Noh. The intense dramatic art of Bunraku lies in achieving perfect synchronization of three elements (puppets, narration and music). Each doll usually weight from 5-20 kilos and is operated by three men. Precision timing among the three puppeteers is necessary to achieve each doll´s lifelike motion.
Seated to the right of the stage on an elevated platform, the narrator (tayu) recites the epic poetic text (joruri). He does not only read the text but also does the voice of all de characters (men, women and children). The player of the shamisen, an ancient three-stringed instrument, supplies musical punctuation and atmosphere for the drama.
–Meido No Hikyaku (or The Courier from Hell)-
Is a love-suicide play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon in 1711. The Courier for Hell was based on real events that took place in Osaka in 1710. General plot: It´s centers on Chubei, an adopted son of a courier located in Osaka, who is in love with the prostitute named Umegawa. He begins using customers’ money to buy out her contract before another man can do so. Chubei’s friend Hachiemon attempts to stop Chubei’s behavior by informing her fellow prostitutes and mistress what’s going on, but it instead incites Chubei to break the seal on 300 gold pieces belonging to an important samurai, a crime punishable by death. The two escape Osaka together and head towards Chubei’s hometown, dying together in the mountains.
–Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653 –1725)-
He was a Japanese dramatist of joruri, the form of puppet theater that later came to be known as bunraku, and the live-actor drama, kabuki. He is called the Japan´s Shakespeare. He is author of 110 Bunraku and 30 Kabuki plays that have great influence of Japan´s Theater. His most notable plays deal with double-suicides of honor bound lovers making him one of the first writers to deal with those topics.
Now after so much Encyclopedia stuff you may wander. What this has to do with the movie?
Everything, this movie is strongly base on Chikamatsu plays as the main story is the living representation of “The Courier from Hell”. I thought it was important to explain something that not a lot of people know and it´s helps to see the movie. So let us go to the next part.
Dolls is perhaps the most cruel movie of Kitano, not because he shows lot of extreme physical violence but because he exposes the most tragic face of something so human as love can be. In the film, the main characters are so obsess for obtaining the love of that significant other that this leads them into crazy and unthinkable acts that would lead them into tragedy. In the three stories, the common denominator is sadness and the impossibility to connect with the other person.
How much would you sacrifice for your love one (money, belongings, career, future, etc)? How many times have you hear the phase “I will be here for you?” What would you do to get that platonic love? This movie put to the test these questions.
The main story is a live representation of a bunraku play (“Meido not Hikyaku”) in which a young man that is in the verge of consolidating his future decides to abandon all to be with an old love. Matsumoto a young executive is forced to marry the daughter’s company president where he works. This union will allow him to rise in the social scale, assuring his economic future. The same day he is getting marry some friends of Sawako shows up and gave him some bad news. Sawako was in a mental hospital because she tried to commit suicide after he broke up with her. After listening the terrible news Matsumoto, decides to abandon the wedding to see Sawako. She seems to be in an autistic state, she doesn’t not seems to have any type of contact with reality and what is worst she doesn’t seems to know how Matsumoto is, after seen this terrible picture Matsumoto decides to take her away with him. Soon the question is raised. What can he do with Sawako in that state? There is clearly no certain future with her but he decides to remain next to her as they both try to seek that thing they lost. It´s interesting to see the transformation through the movie as he finished almost like Sawako, extracted from reality without the possibility to return. Is important to emphasize that he and Sawako don’t really get the chance to relate, during the whole movie they don’t have any physical connection, I think the only thing that bounds him is unconditional love to her. I don’t want to tell much about the plot but there is only one moment that they truly connect but that doesn’t last long as they continued to go aimlessly.
The second story focuses on a very powerful man of the Japanese mafia (Hiro) that seems to be in the dawn of his life. One afternoon he remembered that in this youth, he met a girl called Ryoko during their lunchtime at the factory where they both worked. Little by little they make friends and a relationship was born, but one day Hiro told her that he decided to leave the town so he can find a better job at the city and told her that he would came back after he get a better economic condition. Ryoko who was very much in love told him that she would wait for him every Saturday with a hot meal. Hiro decides to return to that park where they met after a long time, to see if she was still waiting for him. To his surprise, he finds an aged Ryoko that is still waiting for him like. She also wears the same cloths that she was wearing the day he left. The interesting thing is that Ryoko dosent seems to recognized Hiro at all, she is still waiting that young man that once left, moreover Hiro realized this but he doesn’t tell her how he is. So again, they started to become friends and Hiro continues to go every Sunday to have lunch with her.
The third story evolves Nukui, a constructor worker, a devout fan of Haruna Yamaguchi a young pop star. At the beginning, the character pretends to be a little obsessive with Yamaguchi, since his whole room is decorated with her posters and even used a pin in his work uniform. He also attempts to the place where she records her TV program. One day while he was working Nukui reads a street news-board saying that Yamaguchi had a very bad car accident, after seen this he runs to the hospital where she was treated. The young singer recovered but she was left with some consequences on her face because of this she decides to leave the city to stay away from the media. Nukui tries to contact her but he doesn’t get any answers, month later he discover where she lives and decides to see her.
As Kitano is used to all the stories doesn’t end well, when all seems to be ok the plot start to curved and bad things happened leaving us with a bitter flavor and a tear or two.
As for the characters we could say that they are egoist as they get off-focus and obsessed with their own desires and don’t take into account the desires of others leading them into disconnection with the other. None of them is making the right choices or decisions because they are too immerged in their emotions.
The movie elapses the four stations, where we can appreciate the good photography that characterized Kitano, it’s also a good way to show the relationship between the two main characters (Sawako and Matsumoto) as they both fall in autumn and freeze in winter. As for the music Kitano once again hires the great Hisaishi making this movie the seventh time they work together. It’s a pity that this will be the last time we can see them together because Hisaishi is an excellent composer. Without entering into details Kitano argument that Hisaishi became very expensive to be hire. The for the quality of the music…it’s priceless if you are able to get the actual CD don’t doubt about it (I will put a YouTube link to listen the main soundtrack).
The inspiration to create the main story was revealed to Kitano when we was working in Asakusa, as a comedian, one day he saw a homeless couple united by a rope. The people called them “the vagabonds chained”, there was different rumors about the origin of the couple but nobody knew for sure. How they were? Why they became to this state? These are things that Kitano was able to put together to make this movie. For the people that aren’t used to see Kitano´s or Japanese movies this film may fell that the scenes are long and with no point but trust me this is one great movie.
By Sebastian Nadilo
Scene to see: First minutes of the movie