Hideo is a middle-aged man who doesn’t have many friends, but he wards off loneliness with his inflatable sex-doll Nozomi, who joins him for dinner each evening and in bed afterwards. But Nozomi is actually an inflatable love doll that can’t speak or move on her own — or she can’t until one morning she discovers she’s coming into being as a human subject.
After taking her first steps in the human world, she eventually arrives at a video rental store. She decides to start working there, eventually becoming romantically involved with one of the employees.
The narrative of Air Doll, which excels in simplicity, concerns the coming into being of Nozomi and the effects this coming into being instigates. The narrative stages a trajectory of a coming into being of an air doll and succeeds in showing the important coordinates (the Lacanian triage) by which a (human) being find its place in human society.
The narrative underlines is that a coming into being is foremost a coming into being into language. Nozomi has to make the Japanese language her own, become a being of language; she has to integrate signifiers (きれい from Hideo, いってきます, …) to give herself a being, signifiers that – so the narrative shows – will determine how her subjectivity traces out. Air Doll shows subsequently that becoming a being of language is also becoming a being subjected by society (Narra-note 1). The question of her societal coming into being, which is explored through her work at a video store, transforms, as she becomes romantically interested and involved with her co-worker Junichi, into the question of coming into being as a woman. This shift allows Kore-eda to explore notions of drives and desires and deliver a surprising revelation concerning Nozomi’s erogenous zones (Narra-note 2).
Nozomi’s coming into being (as being of language, being of society, and as woman) is structured by the theme of loneliness/emptiness. The narrative alternates between Nozomi’s literal emptiness and the figurative emptiness of others, like Hideo and Junichi. In the case of Hideo, his loneliness is revealed when he discovers Nozomi is alive and realizes she has become more than a just a screen to project his fantasies on. Junichi’s ‘emptiness’ ultimately causes, due to a misunderstanding, dramatic effects. The ultimate point of Kore-eda’s narrative is that subjective emptiness can only be overcome by love, the exchange of love between two subjects. The erotic act of deflating and reflating – with the air of a loved one, is a powerful metaphor for the fact that what ultimately gives a subject life is love and desire.
The cinematography of Air Doll excels in fluidity and dynamism. The few static shots notwithstanding, the shots, by which the narrative is staged, are ever moving (i.e. moving sideways, moving into the depth slowly zooming in, …), hooking the viewer’s gaze and taking him on the journey of Nozomi’s subjectivication. The long slow shots that make up the most of the narrative aim to stage Nozomi’s exploration of the human world, her discovery of human emotions, human language, and ultimately her being. The focus on Nozomi’s interactions (her childlike innocence, her feelings, …) with the world, even though it results in a slower narrative, is staged in a satisfactory way, by way of accentuating the beauty of movement.
The music and sound support the cinematography and the main theme of the narrative in a very good way. In the opening moments sound is mainly used to underline the different (plastic) bodily reality of Nozomi, which is already vividly brought to life by the attentive cinematography and the superb acting of Bea Doona ( i.e. her expressions, her movements, … ). The minimalistic music for that matter underlines the loneliness/emptiness that drives the narrative as well as the playfulness by which Nozomi finds pleasure in her coming into being.
Air Doll’s cinematographic style, in truth, complements the simplicity of the narrative very well. Kore-eda’s visual composition plays in fundamental role in turning the simple narrative into an honest, poetic and moving piece of cinema.
Air doll is a subtly positive drama dealing with the centrality of the signifier for the process of coming into being as a subject and with the contemporary societal problem of loneliness and subjective emptiness. Kore-eda, via his thoughtful and powerful visual composition, offers a sad and touching meditation on loneliness and subjective emptiness and the importance of love and desire to escape this subjective emptiness.
Narra-note 1: This becoming is illustrated when Nozomi follows the elder woman and imitates her bowing. Another illustration concerns the scenes where Nozomi takes position in relation to the other by way of using すみません and ごめんなせい.
Narra-note 2: After an accident at the store which causes Nozomi to deflate, Kore-eda reveals the erotic and intimate nature of reflating her by Junichi; It’s the only act that touches her emotionally and causes satisfactory bodily effects. Nozomi’s satisfaction is , in other words, situated at any possible hole on the surface of her body and not at the level of her vagina, as it is separate piece. Sex does not touch her, because it is, literally, not a part of her body.