• Dolls (Palm Pictures) DVD Review

    Released by: Palm Pictures
    Released on: March 8th, 2005.
    Director: Takeshi Kitano
    Cast: Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tatsuya Mihashi, Cheiko Matsubara, Kyoko Fukada
    Year: 2002
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    Dolls - Movie Review:

    'Beat' Takeshi Kitano is probably best known in North American circles for either his latest, most commercial project (Zatoichi) or his gripping, violent Yakzua dramas. His 2002 project, Dolls, is about as far removed from either of those aforementioned movies as you can get, but it is still very much a Kitano film through and through.

    There are basically three separate stories told in the film. The first follows a pair of lovers who run into trouble when the male, Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima) leaves the woman, Sawako (Miho Kanno). This causes Sawako to make an attempt on her own life, which fails, and results in her finding her way into an asylum – and that's exactly where Matsumoto later finds her on the very same day he realizes what he's done and runs out on his current wedding plans with another woman to go and search for her. The second story is about an aging Yakzua boss (Tatsuya Mihashi) who left his lady-friend one day on a park bench, he thought for good. Fifty years later he returns to that park only to find that she is still there awaiting his return. The third story follows a Japanese singer who, at the height of her popularity, gets facially disfigured as the result of a very unfortunate accident. She's obviously not too happy about this, but a multitude of her fans keep her going through their undying devotion.

    There's not a lot of dialogue here, and the stories on the surface are quite simple. The actors, when you pay attention to some of their movements, expressions, and dialogue do act very much like dolls throughout the film. If the story doesn't work for you, and for a lot of people it just plain will not work at all, the visuals Kitano has conjured up for this film are so gorgeous that it makes the film worth sitting through anyway. If you can't get into the symbolism or metaphors that are littered throughout the movie, the cinematography from Katsumi Yanagashina is so stunning that you can chuck all of the dialogue and storylines out the window and it is still easily enjoyed as a delicious piece of eye candy. The landscapes and sets used for the production are incredibly lush and colorful with a very large portion of the area in which the movie was shot covered in thousands of red leaves. This gives the movie a very theatrical look, and when set beside the bright whites of the snow covered areas, makes for quite a pretty visual contrast.

    What makes Dolls less a snooty and pretentious art-house project and more a fascinating and personal work isn't so much what Kitano tells us but more aligned with what the viewer brings to the experience. Yes, Kitano does lay on the symbolism and the sadness thick and heavy and this was very obviously quite a personal project for him rather than a commercial one like his recent updating of Zatoichi (which, by the way, I thought was horrible and nothing more than mass marketed pap).

    But how much you get out of it will depend almost entirely on what your own life experiences have taught you about love and loss. If you're one of those rare people who have simply hopped and skipped through life without a care in the world and never had your heart broken, this movie isn't going to speak to you, Turn the volume down and put on a record or something and just enjoy the visuals. But if you've ever had your heart crapped on by someone you cared about, and you're willing to relate your own experiences to those portrayed by the 'dolls' Kitano orchestrates like a puppet master, then you'll probably take get a whole lot more out of this film, and as such, it will be a more emotional experience. It's hardly a happy movie, but it's a very well made one that reaches Bergman-esque levels of melancholy and does so with such beauty that it's bound to have an impact.

    Dolls - DVD Review:

    The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very strong and thankfully it does a great job of reproducing the color scheme that the filmmakers obviously worked so hard on creating. The reds in particular, which so often bleed and fuzz up, look nice and sharp here and the blacks start of strong and remain that way throughout the film. Flesh tones look natural and lifelike and there aren't any compression issues worth noting. The only problem with the transfer lies in the all too common field of edge enhancement, of which there is only a minor amount of – regardless, it is there and I did notice. It isn't overly severe though - Dolls looks very nice.

    Dolls contains a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in its original Japanese language with removable English subtitles that are free of typos and easy to read. There are no alternate subtitle options, and no closed captioning options. Overall, the clarity of the sound mix is just fine. It's not a film full of action or excitement in the traditional sense so it doesn't provide the soundscape ample opportunity to flex its muscles but this mix does do a nice job of bringing the film to life. The soundtrack sounds very nice and never overpowers the dialogue or effects and for this most part, everything sounds very good here.

    The only extra features mentioned on the back of the packaging are a trailer for Dolls and some bonus preview trailers.

    Luckily, the packaging lies. There are actually four video interviews contained on the DVD as well. First up is an interview with Takeshi Kitano himself (15:20) in which he discusses his early days as a stand up comic where he actually saw a couple bound by a rope, which inspired him to write the first story used in the film. He decided that it wasn't enough to create an entire film around, so he wrote to other similarly themed stories, and thus Dolls was born. Next up is an interview with actress Mino Kanno (3:56) in which she gushes about working with the director stating 'he's very sensitive and refined' when talking about his technique behind the camera. A third interview with actor Hidetoshi Nishijima also covers Kitano, whom the actor describes by saying 'everything about him is great.' He goes on to detail how nervous he was to meet him and to work with him for the first time. All three of those interviews are presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles. The fourth and final interview is with costume designer Yohji Yamamoto and is in English without any subtitle options. The designer describes his long relationship with Kitano and what it is like to work together, as well as how he created a literal fashion show for the camera with his costume designs and how colors played an important look in his work on the film.

    The inside of the case has a brief rundown of the historical significance of dolls in Japanese history.

    Dolls - The Final Word:

    Those expecting a bleak Yakuza film, like those Kitano has delivered in the past, or a mainstream action film like he kicked out with Zatoichi will be in for a bit of a surprise, but in all likelihood it will be a very pleasant one. Dolls comes highly recommended.