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.
The strand which somewhat literally brings the tales together 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 binds together true 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’.
What happens if you can't be with your soulmate?
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.
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