***/**** Image B+ Sound B
starring Miho Kanno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tatsuya Mihashi, Chieko Matsubara
written and directed by Takeshi Kitano
by Walter Chaw Dolls is beautiful--that much can be expected from Japanese director Takeshi Kitano. It's meticulously-framed, interested in theatre, obsessed with the ocean, and stately in a way that re-establishes Kitano as a bridge of sorts between the formalism of Japanese cinema's past and the lawlessness of its present. But the film, the rare Kitano-directed piece in which he does not also appear, dispenses with hinting around at his absurdist auteur tendencies and sublimates his subtext into the text. To that end, it opens with an extended Bunraku performance--shot with a devouring fascination that hints at the ningyo (doll worship) suggested by the title and set to follow--concerning two doomed lovers that parallels the three barely-intersecting couples whose stories comprise the body of this anthology. The decision to make a film that is all subtext, however, is seldom successful: such pictures tend towards the pretentious, for one; and in emptying the basement, logic follows, they leave the basement empty. So it is with Dolls, which says everything it has to say, leaving only the speculation upon a repeat viewing (if one is necessary or desired) for how personal a project this might have been for Kitano and ultimately what this film tells us about the rest of Kitano's films. Then again, there's something that nags about Dolls, opening the possibility for another possible eventuality for this kind of piece.