Production company: Office Kitano, Bandai Visual Company Ltd., TV Tokyo, Tokyo FM Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (2002)
Director: Kitano Takeshi
Assistent director: Shimizu Hiroshi
Producer: Mori Masayuki, Takio Yoshida
Script: Kitano Takeshi
Based upon: Chikamatsu Monzaemon (partly)
Cinematography: Yanagishima Katsumi
Editor: Kitano Takeshi
Score: J? Hisaishi
Sound: Horiuchi Senji
Production Design: Isoda Norihiro
Costumes: Yamamoto Yohij
Actors: Kanno Miho, Nishijima Hidetoshi, Mihashi Tatsuya, Matsubara Chieko, Fukada Kyoko, Takeshige Tsutomu
Duration: 114 minutes
Premiere: 2002-09-05

Growing tired of violence, monochrome colours and stories about men, Kitano decided to make a film about love, full of beautiful colours, about men and women. Thus the idea for "Dolls" was born.

From the very start, Kitano decided not to make it a contemporary love story, as he didn't like that way people talk to eachother or behave today. Kitano wanted something not real, not meaning unrealistic, but irreal

The original idea was the story of the bound beggars; Two real life beggars, wandering the suburbs of Tokyo during Kitano's childhood, bound together by a piece of string. Kitano was fascinated by not only their love to eachother, but also the irreality of the story. When he then saw the costumes by costume designer Yohji Yamamoto, so vivid and extravagant in colours, Kitano began to reshape the story. So repulsive in smell, so attractive in colours, so irreal. The more he worked with the concept and design, the more he began to distance himself from the realism of his memory and into the realm of irrealism and symbolism. Thus was born the idea, to make Dolls about how bunraku puppets imagine the lives of humans.

To explore the nature of their love, Kitano found it natural to adapt the motifs of Monzaemon Chikamatsu. Writing mainly for bunraku theatre, and thus the middle class and common man, Chikamatsu, also known as the Japanese Shakespeare, wrote stories about love; all consuming, opposed and tragical love. In the center of his work there is the motif of "waiting destiny", a fatalistic concept about man and his inablitiy to escape his destiny. A strong motif, adapted and explored by especially Shinoda and Mizogushi, Kitano felt attracted to it aswell, as it allowed him to explore his own motif of destiny further.

Realizing that the one story of the bound beggars wasn't strong enough to carry an entire film, Kitano wrote two additional stories, reflecting Chikamatsu's motifs and themes.

"Dolls" is three stories about extraordinary love; all consuming and bordering insanity. The main story, literary the red thread, as the bound beggars are bound together by a red string, is the wandering of Matsumoto and Sawako. Not only do they structure time, but they also function as silent narrators.

Matsumoto and Sawako (the bound beggars)
Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijim) and Sawako (Miho Kanno) are lovers and engaged to be married. When Matsumoto's boss, the president of a big company wants him to marry his daughter, his parents beg him, demand of him, to do so. They have worked hard to get Matsumoto thru collage, to give him the chance of a life they never had and now he has to accept their wishes. Matsumoto breaks with Sawako.

At the wedding, two old friends of him visits. They inform him, that while he chose success, Sawako chose suicide. She survived, but lost her sanity and is now at a hospital. Matsumoto walks out of the wedding, without saying anything to anyone, and drives to Sawako. Having found her, he takes her with him. First to a hotel, then as money run out, to a highway resting place. Unable to control her wandering, he connects himself to her by a 30 foot red rope; only first to follow her, then to wander the country side, without aim nor purpose.

Hito and Rykyo
Hito (Tatsuya Mihashi) is an old retired yakuza boss, now living and spending his otium alone, surrounded by bodyguards, only visited by his doctor and the idiot son of his former "brother". One day he lets his mind drift back to his youth, where he used to be in love with Rykyo (Tatsuya Mihashi), who he met each Saturday and who brought him lunch. Facing unemployment, he chooses to quit his job and seek his fortune elsewhere, as he couldn't make her happy as things were. He decides, that its best for them to wait until he returns, well dressed and with money. As he walks away, she gives him a promise of love: She will wait for him, going to the park every Saturday with lunch, until he returns. As its Saturday, he insists on driving to Saitama park, in hope she might be waiting for him. Arriving at the park, she is. To ashamed, Hito doesn't reveal himself to Rykyo. He is permitted to sit next to her until her fianc?e arrives, and does so every Saturday. One day Rykyo gives up waiting and asks Hito if he wants to share lunch with her.

Nukui and Haruna
Nukui (Tsutomu Takeshig) has few joys in his life. He is in his late twenties, he works in a dead end job and lives alone. The only joy in his life is the teen pop star Haruna (Ky?ko Fukada). He is a fan, a groupie even, spending all his spare time either listening to her songs or waiting to get a glimpse of her. Involved in a car accident, she loses her left eye. To ashamed by her new look, she withdraws herself from the public. Nukui, determined to meet her, commits her face to memory, then blinds himself. Now, unable to bring shame on her, Nukui sets out to meet Haruna.

"Dolls" is from the very first shot conceptual Japanese. It echoes Shinoda's "Double Suicide" by also to open in a bunraku theatre. But where Shinoda opens with Chikamatsu's "The Love Suicides at Sonezaki" and lets his puppets become human and the theatre become reality, Kitano opens with "The Courier for Hell" (Meido No Kikaku) and lets the puppets become the spectators to the real world. Where Shinoda lets the puppets become humans to continue the tale, Kitano disrupts the tale and makes a transition to the two lovers, the leashed beggars, walking down an avenue of cherry trees in blossom; laughed at and misunderstood by the young, recognized and mourned by the elderly, mocked by the kids. In a way, the leased beggars are like the puppets.

The similarity between Umegawa and Chubei and Matsumoto and Sawako goes further. They both undergo Michiyuki, either an attempt to escape or a final secret journey as the lovers travelled toward some chosen destination where they would commit double suicide.

A way of approaching "Dolls", when considering the theme of "The Courier for Hell", is the notion of Michiyuki and the narrative structure of the film. In "The Courier for Hell" the courtesan Umegawa implores her lover Chubei to stop doing a foolish thing for her sake, but instead of physically undergoing Muchiyuki, they, the dolls, stop acting and become spectators to the stories of "Dolls". Thus the three stories become lessons in which Umegawa and Chubai reflect their own love; an inner Muchiyuki. The same way are we, the audience, to view the leased beggars as guides, who will lead us thru tales of love, for us to undergo an inner Muchiyuki. Thus, the Michiyuki not only is the lovers path to death, but also the narrator. A stroke of genius

The love in "Dolls" is uncompromising. Matsumoto leaves everything behind to be with Sawako, Rykyo sits every Saturday for over fifty years and waits for Hito to return and Nukui blinds himself to get closer to Haruna. Love is, in the plays of Chikamatsku, an inescapable "waiting destiny"; a fatalistic concept about man and his inability to escape it. Kitano transforms this into the purpose of his characters. One of the central motifs in the films of Kitano is, that man is destined to do one task and when it's done, life will end. Man will fumble thru life and either by chance or clear sight enter his destined path. In "Dolls", that one task is finding true love; It may border insanity, but its still the right thing to do.

Kitano finds it ironic, that he set out to make a film about love and ended up making, in his words, his most violent film. Kitano elaborates: "This is not because the violence is particularly gruesome, but its sudden and without warning. When a yakuza dies, you can say, I saw it coming and he deserved it. When it befalls ordinary men, you cannot excuse it, and it becomes unforgivable."

For the casual viewer, "Dolls" may appear a flawed film. Attempting to capture the beauty of the seasons of Japan and the essence of Chikamatsuian love, the original story, about the bound beggars, becomes extreme symbolic and abstract. While told thru the most beautiful scenes of any Kitano film, scenes so stunning in composition and colour, that each and every one of them easy could be a postcard, the symbolism in the Michiyuki does remove itself from reality; and thus from other stories as well.

An example hereof is the recurring image of a butterfly. When Matsumoto finds Sawako at the hospital, she is sitting in the garden, watching a dead butterfly. When they leave the hospital, we see the butterfly again, this time with a detached wing. Then, as they are leaving the hotel, we see a three wing butterfly at the wheel, as Matsumoto drives over it. Finally, when Matsumoto and Sawako has fallen over the edge of the hill, they hang on the branch like a cocoon, awaiting spring.

By employing such abstract symbolism, Kitano is able to combine the motifs of Chikamatsu with Japanese symbolism and rituals, and thereby creating an unique piece of art, which can be revisited again and again, creating two layers of narrative, one real, the other irreal, and allowing them to reflect upon each other

However, as the most uncompromising auteurist work of Kitano yet, there are weaknesses, one of them the score by J? Hisaishi. Neither Hisaishi nor Kitano were satisfied with it. Kitano elaborates: "It was both to weak and not working in harmony with the pictures. Either it drowned the pictures or the pictures drowned it. Perhaps the music suffered from the sudden importance of the costumes of Yamamoto."

Another weakness is the artistic differences between Kitano and costume designer, Yamamoto. In an interview, Yohji Yamamoto admits they approached the topic from two different directions. Kitano wanted realism, Yamamoto saw surrealism. Discussing the bound beggars, Yamamoto saw their string as an umbilical cord, where Kitano saw it as a means not to get lost from each other.

But aside its complexity and weaknesses, "Dolls" is far from a bad film, quiet the opposite. A growing number of critics have begun reevaluating it, and many consider it his second masterpiece after "Hana-bi". Fact is, Kitano never disappoint. He is a master and unlike any other director today, Kitano strives to reinvent cinema. Doing so, he may enstrange the casual viewer, but who ever said that art should be instantly understandable and accetable. In "Dolls", Kitano further continues his experiments with new forms of elliptic editing, once again insisting on sound and picture are two independent elements, creating montages with slow motion picture and norml speed sound, and, for the first time, works with colour as an active participant. Noting the beginning of his third period, "Dolls" shows a mature Kitano, who reinvents himself as auteur, as he reinvents cinema.

by Henrik Sylow 2004. All rights are reserved by Henrik Sylow and