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Review: Air Doll

On paper, the premise of Air Doll (an inflatable sex doll somehow develops sentience and proceeds to wander the streets of Tokyo) sounds absolutely absurd—the kind of story you’d expect to encounter in a particularly exploitative hentai magazine. Leave it to Palme d'Or-winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda to transform such a sleazy concept into a legitimately compelling allegory about the search for community, compassion, and genuine relationships amidst the spiritual decay of urban isolation.

After awakening one morning to discover that she has inexplicably grown a "heart," the eponymous Nozomi (an identity assigned to her by her first owner; according to the packaging in which she was sold, her manufacturers christened her “Candy”) realizes that she is merely a “substitute”—an inanimate object designed to simulate the act of love without burdening her “companions” with the complexities of emotional baggage—and therefore embarks on a quest to learn what it means to be “alive.” Unfortunately, the various lost souls that she encounters—a ragtag collection of introverts, outcasts, and misanthropes—are just as empty, hollow, and insubstantial as she is.

Anchored by Doona Bae’s captivating performance and Katsuhiko Maeda’s mesmerizing score, Air Doll is a masterpiece of magical realism, utilizing subtle supernatural elements to explore universal themes of humanity, loneliness, and longing.

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