Whilst I hate answering the question “what is your favourite movie”, there is a fair chance that if you ask me, and I give you an answer, it will be After-Life directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Ten years old now its a terrific fantasy about an after-life based on film-making. It hits all the right buttons with me. Not a Tokyo movie, unlike Kore-eda’s powerful Nobody Knows which I also saw a few years ago (if you follow the link you will find a terrible mistake I made which I thought was significant). So I was looking forward to Air Doll at the London Film Festival immensely, Kore-eda’s new film and his first comedy.

Or should I have said “comedy”. Because it isn’t funny. It is twee, whimsical and wonderful to look at, but is fatally flawed with its decision to not just play its fantastic premise straight, but also to suggest there is metaphorical weight in it. Because Air Doll, is about a sex doll that comes to life. Its Pinochio for the XXX generation. The film does not use much in the way of special effects to make the transformation occur, or indeed explain it, but just know that the doll Nozomi does not walk around in a permanent state of surprise: she wasn’t that kind of doll. So the film then spends half an hour getting Nozomi to wander around Tokyo in classic stranger in a strange land way, following children, mimicking people, questioning herself and somehow getting a second job as a Video Store Clerk. Second job, because she still keeps up her first job as a sex doll with her owner at night, who has not noticed that she is going out during the day, or that indeed anything has changed. And this is one of the many problems with Air Doll, it does not explain why any of the decisions are made. Why the video store? Why is she still happy to be a sex toy? Why can she not maintain her love of being alive?* Why does Kore-eda keep cutting away to a compulsive eater? We never get the solution to any of these questions and more. Because Kore-eda is more interested in making his big metaphorical point.


Not sure that we will get this, it spells it out at a number of occasions. There are interesting moments, particularly when she gets punctured (fixed with sellotape) and falls in love, but as the film crawls towards its end it suddenly feels like a set-up for a slight, but gorey joke. But even when this shocking ending happens, the film doesn’t stop. It then waltzes through another four possible endings, each slightly weaker than the last until its magic realism has dissolved into unmagical tedium.

So what does it say about Tokyo? Well the film would like you to note the fundamental emptiness of peoples lives in Tokyo. But that is not really what you take away. As with the hidden journey’s of the kids in Nobody Knows, Nozomi’s trips through Tokyo shows his eye for the beauty in the ugly dull parts of the city. There are some lovely trips on the trains through the city, and a quaint but scratty small park where much of the film takes place. He makes the unloved romantic, and I remember Tokyo as a strangely romantic city. Baffling in places – which is nicely underscored by the supermarket trips in the film, but with a strange beauty. It is a pity the film around it is so obvious, and needlessly dull.


*It is possible that these questions are all answered in the manga the film is based on. Though I doubt it.