The Red String of Fate
Celebrated Japanese Auteur Takeshi Kitano’s 2002 gem, Dolls, presents a trio of intermingled tales of tragic love spliced together with the director’s trademark poetic style.The headline strand which ties the narrative together is that of Matsumoto and Sawako, who were happy, in love, and engaged to be married until Matsumoto’s family pressures him into agreeing to an arranged marriage with his boss’s daughter in order to secure his financial position and societal status. Sawako’s reaction to the news is tragic, and Matsumoto spends the rest of his life dealing with the consequences of this decision. The second tale is about ageing Yakuza boss Hiro, who similarly chose success over love, abandoning his potential soul-mate so that he could climb the gang hierarchy, and looking back on his long career with only regret for the woman who may still be waiting for him out there, somewhere. The last story follows Nukui, an obsessive/devoted fan of j-pop sensation Haruna, whose disappearance from the spotlight following a tragic accident leaves Nukui going to unimaginably drastic lengths to get a meeting with her. The three tales are bookended by extended scenes of a piece of Bunraku theatre; itself a story of tragic love brought to life by elaborate dolls who require multiple puppeteers to control their every nuanced movement.Kitano’s take on love is certainly one of sadness and regret, rather than Disney-style happily-ever-after, and the writer/director/editor crafts a surprisingly compelling triptych which takes almost Shakespearean tragedy and sets it in a modern, relevant Japanese environment (unsurprisingly, Japan's social structure has always left it an ideal place to play out Shakespearean tales). The strand which literally binds the tales is that of a little-known-in-the-West piece of folklore in the East (both China and Japan) about “The Red String of Fate” which is an invisible tether that ties lovers across place, circumstance or even time. Akin to our notion of soulmates, Kitano observes the more tragic side of this idea, looking at the potential destruction that it may cause, whether we avoid – or embrace – our ‘soulmates’. Although his visual style is perhaps at its most audacious here – and thus perhaps most alienating – with a literal red rope tying together its lead protagonists who wander through the movie ‘bound’ to one another, Kitano’s compelling observations on love, life and mortality are well-observed and timeless in their relevance.
Picture QualityPerhaps the fact that it is the youngest of Kitano’s three films recently released on Blu-ray helps, but 2002’s Dolls looks frequently striking on this Region B-locked UK release, which renders a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition presentation based on Office Kitano’s 2K restoration of the film, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
Third Window releases their third Takeshi Kitano offering with the same faithful restoration as the last two, arguably looking the best of the three.
Detail is pleasing throughout, affording strong textures both on close-ups and broader shots, with no overt signs of damage (unlike the glimmers seen on Hana-Bi). A suitably natural sheen of filmic grain pervades the piece, further giving the image depth and texture, whilst the colour scheme warmly supports the vibrant visual aesthetic of Kitano’s eye, delivering vivid primaries that lend the film a suitably dream-like quality. It’s not demo material, but it is an utterly faithful presentation of the visually opulent source material.
Sound QualityThe disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in its original Japanese language provides a warm accompaniment to the proceedings.
Marking the last time that filmmaker Kitano would collaborate with Joe Hisaishi, the acclaimed Studio Ghibli composer who did almost all of his previous films, Dolls is perhaps not the best-scored of Kitano’s works, but is nonetheless impressive from a technical standpoint. Dialogue is promoted clearly and distinctly across the fronts and centre channels with solid subtitles keeping up with the words (there’s only one sequence where dialogue appears out of synch, but this feels like a stylistic choice, playing out a flashback at a slightly slower speed).
Effects are well-observed and almost entirely atmospheric, bringing streets to life with bustle or igniting car engines, and only really exciting during the brief pop concert moments. Even the fleeting glimpses of violence are often off-screen, and it’s arguably the score that does the heavy lifting in these more tense moments – even if it’s not as memorable as previous Kitano/Hisaishi collaborations, it still does a great job, as does this track at proving a faithful aural rendition.
ExtrasThere are five key interviews: the two shortest ones with two of the actors, and then there’s a 10 minute offering (the only one in English) with the Costume Designer, but the star offering has to be the 2-part interview with the Writer/Director/Editor Kitano himself. Running a quarter hour each, the first part looks back on the production at the time of release, whereas the second offers more retrospective commentary on his work here. Both, for fans, are utterly unmissable.
Arguably even more impressive than both the video and audio is the selection of extra features.
We also get the 18 minute Scenes From the Shoot which basically comprises b-roll footage from the production, whilst the 8 minute Featurette from the Venice Film Festival looks behind the scenes at that prestigious occasion, with the director and key members of his cast in attendance. The disc is rounded off by the original trailer.
Of course Dolls is another Kitano title to receive Limited Edition slipcover treatment, with a superbly designed slipcover available to the first 1,000 copies.
Blu-ray VerdictPerhaps one of master Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano's most visually audacious works, Dolls is a bittersweet ode to star-crossed lovers.
Dolls is Third Window's third Kitano release and proves the best so far, with impressive video and audio and a commendable selection of extra features - the kind of offering that would make Criterion proud. And with 2 more Kitano titles announced (and, with any luck, hopefully even more to come), fans should be lapping these gems up.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.