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. The narrative shows subsequently that becoming a language being is also becoming a being in society, in the specific symbolic system in general. 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. The societal coming into being, which is quickly concentrated around her work in the video store, shifts, as she becomes romantically interested and involved with Junichi, towards a coming into being as a woman. At that point Air doll touches upon the aspect of the drive/desire and delivers a surprising twist concerning the erogenous zones. After an accident at the store which causes Nozomi to deflate, the erotic and intimate nature of the reflating gesture of Junichi is revealed; it’s the only act that touches her emotionally and causes satisfactory bodily effects. Nozomi’s drives, one could say, thus situate themselves at any possible hole on the surface of her body, while her vagina lacks any investment of the drive. Sexual contacts don’t touch her, because her vagina is a separate piece and, one could say, not a part of her body – even though it’s a part of her function.
Nozomi’s coming into being is nevertheless framed by the main thematic structure of loneliness/emptiness. The narrative alternates between Nozomi’s literal emptiness and the figurative emptiness of others, for example Hideo, 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 fantasy on. Junichi’s ‘emptiness’ ultimately causes, by way of a misunderstanding, dramatic effects. The narrative in the end evokes that emptiness can only be overcome by love, the exchange of love between two human beings. The act of deflating and reflating – with the air of a loved one, is thus only a 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 style, finely elaborated by the cinematography and music/sound, empowers the simplicity of the narrative. One could even say that the style of Air Doll makes up a lot of the substance of the movie, polishing its simplicity into a honest, poetic and moving whole.
Air doll is a drama, albeit hopeful, of the signifier, which succeeds in bringing the subjectivizing aspects of being vividly to the fore. Nozomi’s coming into being is, by way of the stylized cinematography, framed in a slow but satisfactory way, taking the viewer immediately along on Nozomi’s honest journey. The main structure of the narrative, which is played out around the aspect of loneliness/emptiness, is vividly brought to the fore because of the successful interplay between the different aspects of style.
Air doll reveals itself thus as a successful evocative narrative about loneliness, emptiness, the problematic nature of human relations and of fantasy. It’s a sad and touching meditation on being a human in a world characterized by loneliness. But Air doll nevertheless proposes a way out of this human emptiness, by evocating the power of love and desire.