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Air Doll: A Philosophical Rollercoaster.

The unknown is something we all are forced to deal with throughout our lives, pithy I know, but it is one of many certain truths. Moreover as a critic, albeit a hobbyist one I have come to accept the fact that there will always be a blind spot in my film knowledge, even in a lifetime that has largely been spent watching thousands of films and will likely be spent watching countless more it's as humbling as ever to admit when it comes to foreign film I am but a novice. While not totally ignorant I would be remiss if I called myself anything more, much of my film viewing life has been through the guise of the good ol' U.S.of A. and its attitudes towards the medium. I'll spare you my thoughts on my education as I've ranted about it enough for one lifetime, but it's safe to say aside from the odd Bergman film or a professor referring to Tarkovsky as the "Guy who made Solaris" my experience in school didn't do much to help in the matter. But I don't view this as a negative at all, rather it gives me even greater pleasure in discovering what's possible without the interference of such a rigid & familiar structure. That's not to say I'm willing to throw out the baby with the bath water and praise everything that's experimental, but I am appreciative of the effort. You'll often hear of the cliche that there's only really seven stories in fiction, I'm sure that on a superficial that statement does hold some truth but for me it's just a poor excuse for a lazy imagination. Could the subject of this review be connected to some other famous works of fiction, sure, it even goes out of its way to remind you of a fair few. But I defy anyone to fit this film into one of those boxes. Which, of course begs the question of what exactly is "Air Doll"? Well I think that's up to you as the viewer, I don't believe it's one thing although you could easily write it off as such. For me it's about lost people, which is probably a somewhat shallow interpretation of the work, but it is the one that I have. For you it might be a film about womanhood or even Japanese society at large, both subjects that the film does touch on. But even in shallow interpretations of what this film is or isn't you'll find a great depth worth exploring. So while I could be a snobbish jerk regarding the film and title this article something sensationalist like "Air Doll: Barbie But for Adults" or "Air Doll: Plastic Pinocchio Plus BJs" I think the one I have currently fits the film. "Air Doll" will take you to many different places emotionally and back again with a heartfelt sense of whimsy and wonderment before hitting you with its soul crushing reality. What is the world through the eyes of a hallow object meant for gratification come to life, as taught to her by those who wish to seek it? Well let's find out.

Sometimes a film just leaves you in a state of bewilderment in how to approach it within the context of a written review. Not necessarily because you don't have the words to describe its visual language or its themes but because you understand them all too well you might not be the best person to do them justice. I'm not saying this is one of those times but I'd be a bit remiss if I didn't at least admit as someone who is very much a pigheaded straight guy that there were times that this film made me uncomfortable. I wouldn't say I was shaken to my core or anything else that might be bordering on the level of hyperbole. But, I was for lack of a better term uncomfortable for a variety of reasons that as this review lengthens will become clear. Needless to say I'm not doing the best job on selling you this film right now, but here's the thing a film like this should make you just a bit uncomfortable. The question of nature verses nurture is a loaded one and while I don't think it is necessarily present here in the context of Hirokazu Kore-eda's film, it is something I want you to consider as while I think it, unlike "Air Doll" often fails to account for the question of agency which is one of its core components. What is agency really? What makes "Air Doll" such interesting watch is while it is about the world as viewed through the eyes of a blow up doll come to life through the "love"of her owner, it also explores the idea of subjugation through the lens of its other characters in addition to its lead Nozomi (Bae Donna). Almost everyone in this film is a subject and the idea of their lack of agency playing into Nozomi partially finding her's is to say at the least very interesting. Whether that's her owner grandly boasting about his workplace heroics only to see he's an even more pathetic worm than the person you'd imagine would keep a sex doll as their spouse. Or her boss at the video store who has a successful business, a grand knowledge of film and a slew of golf trophies but possesses a nonexistent home life and is such a slave to the routine that his dinner is ruined by something as simple as an egg shell finding its way into his favorite dish. The question of who and what is subjugating who shifts from scene to scene and is one of many dueling philosophies present in the film. Our journey as an audience with Nozomi is never a clear one and the answers we're given are not always satisfactory. But it is a journey worth going on to see how life has affected these people. While it could be easy for example to cast someone like Nozomi's owner as a closeted incel especially after learning of the origins of her name or how he casts her out once he learns of her sentience. The hard part of that equation is to find a level of empathy with him when the film provides you with one, and it is hard, extremely so but that pathway is there if you are willing to explore it. The same to a certain degree can also be said of Nozomi's boss, which is an even more challenging road to explore after he takes advantage of her after he learns of her owner who he confuses for her boyfriend. For me though where the film shines its brightest is in its scenes with Nozomi and the old man who she meets by chance one day after trying to interact with an infant in the park. He is one of the first characters to reciprocate in her feelings of emptiness, which she takes to be somewhat literal, but the scenes between the two are both some of the film's most tender and melancholic. For me that's the great strength of this film its ability to make such small intimate interactions seem as grand. In contrast there are also things this film does to make it's setting feel rather large that we later find out only encompass a small area. The characters seem disconnected outside of the strand that is Nozomi but in many ways she not only represents many of their feelings but reflects them back upon them. In finding her agency Nozomi doesn't find one single answer, she finds many and struggles to fully grasp what they all mean just as we find in our everyday lives a struggle to find answers to simple questions. It's not that she doesn't learn lessons she constantly relearns them. One of the biggest examples of which is how and who she learns intimacy from and at what time, her discovery of life and death is a fairly similar journey and both lessons end up playing into the film's depressing climax. "Air Doll" when it gives you an emotion or an idea will not only stay with it but change how you feel about it. If it feels like I'm being somewhat vague about the particulars of this film, well I am and it's because you should go watch this. Its quality can not be described by one word or even several thousand. Its visual language while at times not necessarily the most spellbinding is anything but flat, it lends itself to the story it is telling which for any film is the best compliment I can give it.

I am not someone who really likes to compare art as I think it is both unfair to the artist but to art itself. But if I am to be honest. Which is always my goals with these reviews, "Air Doll" succeeds where something like "Barbie" fails for me on a personal level because it is anything but obvious and it's allowed to explore its themes a bit further than the concept of a 100 million dollar film about a popular children's doll come to life will allow. That isn't to say I don't respect the creativity displayed in such a film or even at times that I think being obvious can't be a strength or even a great one at that. But for yours truly I just think this has more to offer me as a viewer and I didn't come away with the same feelings of disappointment as I did when watching "Barbie". Again that might just be a me thing and I'm more than willing to admit that I'm in the great minority when it comes to such an opinion but this review is not a comparison or damnation of that film but rather a reminder that different perspectives not only exist in life, but in film as well and they should be explored. One of my least favorite terms is media literacy as I find it to be a somewhat backhanded and elitist one, but as someone who is actively trying to expand their limited horizons beyond the gaze of what is normalcy for me, I'll end this review by saying this. The barrier of entry for film is low, you just have to watch and "Air Doll' is worth watching.

Air Doll is available on a variety of streaming services today including Freevee and Tubi though I'm sure if you look for you can find in a place or two without ads.

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