Dolls: The Movie

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Actor/director Takeshi Kitano is best known in the States for his ultra-bloody, high body-count, martial arts flicks like Zaitoichi, Brother, Violent Cop, and Battle Royale I & II. So, fans expecting to catch some gratuitous violence will certainly be disappointed by Dolls, which represents a pleasant departure from his signature style.

This deliberately-paced, character-driven production is actually a trio of tenderhearted tales of undying love, each inspired by the classic works of Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1724). Chikamatsu, the author of over 140 domestic dramas exploring themes arising out of the conflict between duty and desire, is revered in Japan as the country's equivalent of William Shakespeare.

Dolls turns to traditional puppet theater as a cinematic device to thread its three stories together. The first introduces us to Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a young man who broke off his engagement to Sawako (Miho Kanno), the girl of his dreams, only because of pressure from his parents to marry the boss' daughter for money. After a suicide attempt leaves Sawako a catatonic zombie, a repentant Matsumoto returns and professes his eternal devotion, literally attaching himself to her via a red rope as proof.

While waiting to see where that liaison will lead, the picture segues over to Hiro (Tatsuya Mihashi), an aging mob boss in declining health. In spite of his power and affluence, Hiro finds himself pining for the lover (Chieko Matsubara) with whom he would rendezvous daily when he was just a struggling factory worker. The disconsolate don now returns to the park after 30 years ago, hoping to find his ex still there.

The final plotline is as unlikely as the others, this one centering on a vain, recently disfigured pop star (Kyoko Fukada) who refuses to see any of her fans except Nukui (Tsutomu Takeshige), a stalker whose blindness was self-inflicted out of devotion to his idol. Despite the absurd premises, Dolls works, because of its enchanting visual escapades, formal celebrations of nature designed to delight minimalist sensibilities.

Very Good (3 stars)
(In Japanese with subtitles)
Running time: 114 minutes
Distributor: Palm Pictures

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