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Palm Pictures presents
Dolls (2002)

"Girls become so pretty when they're in love."
- Haruna (Kyoko Fukada)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: March 08, 2005

Stars: Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tatsuya Mihashi
Other Stars: Chieko Matsubara, Kyoko Fukada, Tsutomu Takeshige
Director: Takeshi Kitano

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:53m:56s
Release Date: March 08, 2005
UPC: 660200310622
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When film buffs talk about the recent Japanese film invasion, one of the director names that pop up most frequently is Takeshi Kitano. The man behind such modern classics as Brother and Zatoichi has been directing and acting in these action-oriented films for many years now. Kitano is mostly known for directing extremely violent yakuza dramas, but in 2002 he made his most introspective film, Dolls.

Zatoichi was actually released in the US before Dolls, even though the latter was made before the former. However, while Zatoichi was a moderate box office success, Dolls came and went from a few select theaters, going almost completely unnoticed. Still, these two films would make the perfect double feature, especially for those who are unfamiliar with Kitano's work, mainly because they represent the opposite ends of what this wonderful director brings to the table with every film.

Dolls is basically three separate stories perfectly intertwined, and sometimes even colliding with one another, although in a very believable way. The first tale involves a man named Matsumoto and a woman, Sawako. The pair was on the verge of being married, when Matsumoto, at the urging of his parents, leaves Sawako. When Matsumoto learns, only minutes before marrying another woman, that Sawako is in an institution following a suicide attempt, he leaves the church to find her. This engrossing, albeit very quiet (and almost dialogue-free) part of the film touches the heart throughout, taking this duo to the far reaches of Japan, while they try to make their relationship go back to where it was before Matsumoto's betrayal.

The second story, the most powerful of the three, has an aging yakuza boss remembering the love of his life, whom he left for a life of crime. When he left, the woman vowed to meet him for lunch at their favorite park bench every Saturday for the rest of her life. One day, the boss is driven by that park, decides to stop, and makes a startling discovery.

The third tale focuses on young pop star Haruna, who suffers a disfiguring accident, possibly due in part to an obsessive fan. This fan takes advantage of the tragedy to finally meet his favorite singer, with potentially life-changing consequences.

While each of these stories could easily stand alone as separate short films, the way that Kitano (in a rare film in which he does not appear as an actor) blends them together is priceless, even having some of the characters in each story come across each other on-screen. The blending of the imagery between the tales, and the overall distinct, always beautiful look of them wouldn't be the same if they weren't presented in this singular fashion.

None of these stories are about dolls, literally, but the theme is based on the Japanese tradition of bunraku, or puppet plays. Not only does the film open with a depiction of one of these fascinating performance pieces, but the actors (especially the couple tied together with a red rope from the first story) move like these puppets.

Dolls can be a tough movie to get through at times, due to its incredibly slow pace and it's spare use of dialogue. Still, art house fans will instantly love the flick, and those Kitano fans who might be turned away by this rare low key directorial approach will find themselves loving him even more after giving it a spin.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: One of the keys to the effectiveness of Dolls is its gorgeous use of color, and, fortunately, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation beautifully renders the palette in a nearly flawless fashion. Every color sparkles and the amazing reds practically jump off of the screen with vibrancy. Image detail is consistently excellent, and, aside from a bit of grain, this presentation leaves nothing to complain about.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There's both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio mixes, with both sounding very good. The 5.1 track is the preferred one, but, aside from increased fidelity and clarity, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two. The little bit of dialogue that is spoken in the film is handled perfectly, blending in quite nicely with the music and other sound effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bright Future, DIG!, Reconstruction, The Nomi Song
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews with: Director Takeshi Kitano, Actors Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijuma, and Costume Designer Yohji Yamamoto
Extras Review: Aside from the theatrical trailer for Dolls and trailers for other Palm Pictures releases, there are excellent interviews with integral cast and crew involved with the film. These interviews, running about 33 minutes, cut to the core of the film's production, with the most interesting information coming from director Takeshi Kitano, who is a wonderful storyteller in front of the camera as well as behind it, and from costume designer Yohji Yamamoto, whose work in the film is simply priceless.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The wonderful sight that is bunraku comes to life in human form in Dolls. This departure from the norm for director Takeshi Kitano will please his apprehensive fans and create an entirely new fan base along the way.


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