Growing tired of violence, monochrome colours and stories about men, Kitano
decided to make a film about love, full of beautiful colours, about men and
women. Thus the idea for "Dolls" was born.
From the very start, Kitano decided not to make it a contemporary love story,
as he didn't like that way people talk to eachother or behave today. Kitano
wanted something not real, not meaning unrealistic, but irreal
The original idea was the story of the bound beggars; Two real life beggars,
wandering the suburbs of Tokyo during Kitano's childhood, bound together by a
piece of string. Kitano was fascinated by not only their love to eachother, but
also the irreality of the story. When he then saw the costumes by costume
designer Yohji Yamamoto, so vivid and extravagant in colours, Kitano began to
reshape the story. So repulsive in smell, so attractive in colours, so irreal.
The more he worked with the concept and design, the more he began to distance
himself from the realism of his memory and into the realm of irrealism and
symbolism. Thus was born the idea, to make Dolls about how bunraku puppets
imagine the lives of humans.
To explore the nature of their love, Kitano found it natural to adapt the
motifs of Monzaemon Chikamatsu. Writing mainly for bunraku theatre, and thus the
middle class and common man, Chikamatsu, also known as the Japanese Shakespeare,
wrote stories about love; all consuming, opposed and tragical love. In the
center of his work there is the motif of "waiting destiny", a fatalistic concept
about man and his inablitiy to escape his destiny. A strong motif, adapted and
explored by especially Shinoda and Mizogushi, Kitano felt attracted to it
aswell, as it allowed him to explore his own motif of destiny further.
Realizing that the one story of the bound beggars wasn't strong enough to
carry an entire film, Kitano wrote two additional stories, reflecting
Chikamatsu's motifs and themes.
"Dolls" is three stories about extraordinary love; all consuming and
bordering insanity. The main story, literary the red thread, as the bound
beggars are bound together by a red string, is the wandering of Matsumoto and
Sawako. Not only do they structure time, but they also function as silent
Matsumoto and Sawako (the bound beggars)
Nishijim) and Sawako (Miho Kanno) are lovers and engaged to be married. When
Matsumoto's boss, the president of a big company wants him to marry his
daughter, his parents beg him, demand of him, to do so. They have worked hard to
get Matsumoto thru collage, to give him the chance of a life they never had and
now he has to accept their wishes. Matsumoto breaks with Sawako.
At the wedding, two old friends of him visits. They inform him, that while he
chose success, Sawako chose suicide. She survived, but lost her sanity and is
now at a hospital. Matsumoto walks out of the wedding, without saying anything
to anyone, and drives to Sawako. Having found her, he takes her with him. First
to a hotel, then as money run out, to a highway resting place. Unable to control
her wandering, he connects himself to her by a 30 foot red rope; only first to
follow her, then to wander the country side, without aim nor purpose.
Hito and Rykyo
Hito (Tatsuya Mihashi) is an old retired yakuza
boss, now living and spending his otium alone, surrounded by bodyguards, only
visited by his doctor and the idiot son of his former "brother". One day he lets
his mind drift back to his youth, where he used to be in love with Rykyo
(Tatsuya Mihashi), who he met each Saturday and who brought him lunch. Facing
unemployment, he chooses to quit his job and seek his fortune elsewhere, as he
couldn't make her happy as things were. He decides, that its best for them to
wait until he returns, well dressed and with money. As he walks away, she gives
him a promise of love: She will wait for him, going to the park every Saturday
with lunch, until he returns. As its Saturday, he insists on driving to Saitama
park, in hope she might be waiting for him. Arriving at the park, she is. To
ashamed, Hito doesn't reveal himself to Rykyo. He is permitted to sit next to
her until her fianc?e arrives, and does so every Saturday. One day Rykyo gives
up waiting and asks Hito if he wants to share lunch with her.
Nukui and Haruna
Nukui (Tsutomu Takeshig) has few joys in his life.
He is in his late twenties, he works in a dead end job and lives alone. The only
joy in his life is the teen pop star Haruna (Ky?ko Fukada). He is a fan, a
groupie even, spending all his spare time either listening to her songs or
waiting to get a glimpse of her. Involved in a car accident, she loses her left
eye. To ashamed by her new look, she withdraws herself from the public. Nukui,
determined to meet her, commits her face to memory, then blinds himself. Now,
unable to bring shame on her, Nukui sets out to meet Haruna.
"Dolls" is from the very first shot conceptual Japanese. It echoes Shinoda's
"Double Suicide" by also to open in a bunraku theatre. But where Shinoda opens
with Chikamatsu's "The Love Suicides at Sonezaki" and lets his puppets become
human and the theatre become reality, Kitano opens with "The Courier for Hell"
(Meido No Kikaku) and lets the puppets become the spectators to the real world.
Where Shinoda lets the puppets become humans to continue the tale, Kitano
disrupts the tale and makes a transition to the two lovers, the leashed beggars,
walking down an avenue of cherry trees in blossom; laughed at and misunderstood
by the young, recognized and mourned by the elderly, mocked by the kids. In a
way, the leased beggars are like the puppets.
The similarity between Umegawa and Chubei and Matsumoto and Sawako goes
further. They both undergo Michiyuki, either an attempt to escape or a final
secret journey as the lovers travelled toward some chosen destination where they
would commit double suicide.
A way of approaching "Dolls", when considering the theme of "The Courier for
Hell", is the notion of Michiyuki and the narrative structure of the film. In
"The Courier for Hell" the courtesan Umegawa implores her lover Chubei to stop
doing a foolish thing for her sake, but instead of physically undergoing
Muchiyuki, they, the dolls, stop acting and become spectators to the stories of
"Dolls". Thus the three stories become lessons in which Umegawa and Chubai
reflect their own love; an inner Muchiyuki. The same way are we, the audience,
to view the leased beggars as guides, who will lead us thru tales of love, for
us to undergo an inner Muchiyuki. Thus, the Michiyuki not only is the lovers
path to death, but also the narrator. A stroke of genius
The love in "Dolls" is uncompromising. Matsumoto leaves everything behind to
be with Sawako, Rykyo sits every Saturday for over fifty years and waits for
Hito to return and Nukui blinds himself to get closer to Haruna. Love is, in the
plays of Chikamatsku, an inescapable "waiting destiny"; a fatalistic concept
about man and his inability to escape it. Kitano transforms this into the
purpose of his characters. One of the central motifs in the films of Kitano is,
that man is destined to do one task and when it's done, life will end. Man will
fumble thru life and either by chance or clear sight enter his destined path. In
"Dolls", that one task is finding true love; It may border insanity, but its
still the right thing to do.
Kitano finds it ironic, that he set out to make a film about love and ended
up making, in his words, his most violent film. Kitano elaborates: "This is
not because the violence is particularly gruesome, but its sudden and without
warning. When a yakuza dies, you can say, I saw it coming and he deserved it.
When it befalls ordinary men, you cannot excuse it, and it becomes
For the casual viewer, "Dolls" may appear a flawed film. Attempting to
capture the beauty of the seasons of Japan and the essence of Chikamatsuian
love, the original story, about the bound beggars, becomes extreme symbolic and
abstract. While told thru the most beautiful scenes of any Kitano film, scenes
so stunning in composition and colour, that each and every one of them easy
could be a postcard, the symbolism in the Michiyuki does remove itself from
reality; and thus from other stories as well.
An example hereof is the recurring image of a butterfly. When Matsumoto finds
Sawako at the hospital, she is sitting in the garden, watching a dead butterfly.
When they leave the hospital, we see the butterfly again, this time with a
detached wing. Then, as they are leaving the hotel, we see a three wing
butterfly at the wheel, as Matsumoto drives over it. Finally, when Matsumoto and
Sawako has fallen over the edge of the hill, they hang on the branch like a
cocoon, awaiting spring.
By employing such abstract symbolism, Kitano is able to combine the motifs of
Chikamatsu with Japanese symbolism and rituals, and thereby creating an unique
piece of art, which can be revisited again and again, creating two layers of
narrative, one real, the other irreal, and allowing them to reflect upon each
However, as the most uncompromising auteurist work of Kitano yet, there are
weaknesses, one of them the score by J? Hisaishi. Neither Hisaishi nor Kitano
were satisfied with it. Kitano elaborates: "It was both to weak and not
working in harmony with the pictures. Either it drowned the pictures or the
pictures drowned it. Perhaps the music suffered from the sudden importance of
the costumes of Yamamoto."
Another weakness is the artistic differences between Kitano and costume
designer, Yamamoto. In an interview, Yohji Yamamoto admits they approached the
topic from two different directions. Kitano wanted realism, Yamamoto saw
surrealism. Discussing the bound beggars, Yamamoto saw their string as an
umbilical cord, where Kitano saw it as a means not to get lost from each
But aside its complexity and weaknesses, "Dolls" is far from a bad film,
quiet the opposite. A growing number of critics have begun reevaluating it, and
many consider it his second masterpiece after "Hana-bi". Fact is, Kitano never
disappoint. He is a master and unlike any other director today, Kitano strives
to reinvent cinema. Doing so, he may enstrange the casual viewer, but who ever
said that art should be instantly understandable and accetable. In "Dolls",
Kitano further continues his experiments with new forms of elliptic editing,
once again insisting on sound and picture are two independent elements, creating
montages with slow motion picture and norml speed sound, and, for the first
time, works with colour as an active participant. Noting the beginning of his
third period, "Dolls" shows a mature Kitano, who reinvents himself as auteur, as
he reinvents cinema.