17 December 2004 | noralee
A Visually Stunning and Wrenching Tour of Love and Guilt
"Dolls" is a gripping lesson in film as a visual medium, even when exploring territory that Beckett and Bergman handled verbally.
Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed and edited with astonishing beauty and poignancy, way beyond the audience pleasing romp of "Zatôichi: The Blind Swordsman." With minimal dialog, he is in a great partnership with the breathtaking cinematography of Katsumi Yanagishima, which uses seasonal changes as powerful visual and emotional metaphors as did "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom)," and the moody music of Joe Hisaishi, which effectively switches back and forth from traditional to Western instrumentation, as the film opens with a Bunraku puppet theater performance and then the stories of three casually intersecting couples gradually enact the sensibility of this what I presume is a traditional tale. The senses are so powerfully called upon that when two blinded characters stand in a rose garden I practically smelled the flowers.
While I am sure I missed a multitude of references and symbols, particularly colors, to elements of Japanese culture past and present, the very powerful themes of the spectrum of ambition destroying love such that love becomes a guilt-filled responsibility at one extreme and obsession at the other are similarly hauntingly recalled in Western culture, such as in old English ballads and more contemporary versions like "The Long Black Veil" and Springsteen's "Reason to Believe." I also felt resonances from "Waiting for Godot" to classics sensitively sympathetic to love-tossed women as "Madame Bovary" and "Anna Karenina."
Flashbacks are used powerfully in a Joycean stream of consciousness way, so that we see the memories, dreams and disturbing nightmares of the characters'associations, literally showing us the Faulknerian dictum that "The past is never dead. It's never even past." This adds considerable emotional build-up for each character as they restlessly return to geographies with meanings to their lives and we gradually see what they were like before their current emotionally (or in some cases physically) stunted states so we heartbreakingly understand their personal iconography, particularly for those two unforgettably bound beggars.
There is no Hollywood happy endings for these couples, only acceptance of the fates they have consciously and willingly chosen and committed themselves to. But their resignation is thrillingly moving in its very graphic representation.