t.l. La bambola dell’amore
ロマンスドール (Romansu Doru)
Japan, 2020, 123’, Japanese
Directed by: Tanada Yuki
Script: Tanada Yuki
Photography (color): Otsuka Ryo
Editing: Miyajima Ryuji
Music: Sebu Hiroko
Producers: Nagata Yoshihiro, Minatoya Yasushi, Komeyama Kanako
Cast: Takahashi Issey, Koseki Yasuhiro, Pierre Taki, Aoi Yu
Date of First Release in Territory: January 24th, 2020
Premiere status: European Premiere
Tanada Yuki’s Romance Doll, which is based on her own novel, starts its story in a sex doll workshop and the film gets the expected laughs from its setting. But its gags are droll and sympathetic rather than the jokey and strident usual for Japanese commercial comedies.
Also, when the story takes a serious turn, the transition is grounded in real-life observation, not lazy stereotype. And when it enters the fraught territory of medical catastrophe, it never jerks tears, though it earns them. Finally, in turning its hero into a Henry Higgins figure laboring over an inanimate Eliza Doolittle the film could have descended to the ridiculous, but instead becomes moving, haunting and inspiring. No need to say why.
Our hero is Tetsuo (Takahashi Issey), a shy graduate who takes a job as a designer at the workshop strictly for the money. Before long, however, he becomes swept up in the ambition of his jittery, middle-aged senior, nicknamed Kin-kin (Koseki Yasuhiro, better known as Kitaro), to make the ultimate sex doll. But Tetsuo’s first attempt is greeted with scorn by the burly workshop boss (Pierre Taki). “This is rubbish – her boobs aren’t real,” he says, feeling up Tetsuo’s creation. Then Kin-kin has a brainstorm: Make a mold from the breasts of a real woman.
Enter Sonoko (Aoi Yu), who takes the mold-model job because she mistakenly assumes the workshop is making prosthetic breasts. She innocently believes she will be helping other women by offering her own to Tetsuo’s ministrations.
He doesn’t disabuse her, even after they fall in love and marry – and even after the doll modeled on Sonoko becomes a bestseller, plunging Tetsuo into frenzy of work that lasts four years.
Meanwhile, progress keeps advancing and a new material, elastomer, threatens the dominance of Tetsuo’s favored silicone. More significantly, certain truths emerge that push Tetsuo and Sonoko to the verge of a breakup.
This may sound too heavy going for a movie about a guy whose goal in life is make better masturbation aids, but Tanada, who wrote the script, uses her offbeat premise to examine fundamental human issues with insights sharp and compassionate, specific and poetic.
In the end, Tetsuo and Kin-kin are craftsmen in a long, proud Japanese tradition, though in the local cultural hierarchy they rank near the bottom. And the folks at the workshop are good-hearted, salt-of-the-earth types, though the film acknowledges that they are not all upstanding citizens and flawless role models.
But in Romance Doll fine Japanese workmanship wins out, as it should, even if the workmen will never get an invitation to an imperial garden party.
Born in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Tanada studied filmmaking in Tokyo. She was thinking of giving up her dream to become a director, but was inspired by Jaco Van Dormael’s 1991 drama Toto the Hero to continue. In 2001 she scripted, directed and starred in her first film, Moru. In 2008 her road movie One Million Yen Girl was screened at Udine FEFF. After a four-year break from film directing to write fiction and direct for television, in 2012 she returned to the big screen with the coming-of-age drama The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky. Since then alternated between film and TV work.
2001 – Moru
2004 – Moon and Cherry
2008 – One Million Yen Girl
2012 – The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky
2013 – Mourning Recipe
2015 – Round-trip Heart
2016 – My Dad and Mr. Ito
2020 – Romance Doll