Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda has written and directed some of the most sublime, strange and touching films to come out of his home country in recent years, including After Life and Nobody Knows. Unfortunately his most recent film, Air Doll, is not as original or interesting.
A sex doll comes to life while her owner is out of the house. She wanders the streets in her French maid uniform, discovering the world as a child does. She finds a job in a video store, where she begins a sweet romance with a fellow employee, while she must return at night to her owner. Certainly, actor Du-na Bae does her job very well as the doll Nozomi. As she tries to cover the seams on her skin, or bravely stay still while her owner uses her as a physical and emotional receptacle, the viewer cannot help but sympathize. But something is still missing.
This becomes a fairly typical fish-out-of-water story, examining not only the innocent discovering the harshness of the world, but how society treats women. Nozomi is a literal doll for her owner, a woman whose only functions are to keep her master company and help him get off. But he is not necessarily to blame. Like many of the people Nozomi encounters, he finds his life unfulfilling, and seeks solace in a creation that cannot hurt him. Nozomi tries to fill her emptiness the way that those around her do, but like most people, is unsuccessful.
Probably the most touching moment in the film is when Nozomi gets a cut; of course, being an air doll, her body empties, and her co-worker at the video store uses his own breath to restore her. Touching, yes, but a bit too predictable. The film fails to capture the originality of purpose. Even the climactic conclusion, while interesting enough, failed to resonate the way Koreeda’s other films have.