Tag Archives: Hirokazu Koreeda

Light as a Breeze

Air Doll

by Hope Madden

There has always been something creepy, narcissistic and sad about the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. In the hands of Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters), it becomes a soft-spoken, melancholic tale of modern isolation.

As delicate a film as Koreeda has made, his 2009 Japanese fantasy based on Yoshiie Goda’s manga shadows a sex doll who awakens to an unsuspecting — and mainly disinterested – world.

Disgruntled waiter Hideo (Itsuji Itao) can’t wait to come home from work every night to his waiting, patient, perfect girlfriend Nozomi. She listens, never says or does anything annoying, asks for nothing and is up for anything.

Nozomi (Bae Doona, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is a sex doll, and after one perfectly ordinary night of servicing Hideo, Nozomi wakes up. While Hideo is at work all day, Nozomi explores the world and learns to be human.

This story could go sideways quickly. On the surface, the tale reads as cloying, sentimental and potentially unendurable— like Mannequin, with an emptiable chamber between its legs.

And yet, Koreeda’s wistful film escapes all of that. Doona’s delicate performance brings heartbreaking tenderness to the existential dread underlying the story. Nozomi aches for answers, for a purpose. Here the film tests the same waters as many, from Blade Runner to A.I.  to Toy Story.

But Nozomi’s story is decidedly female. Pygmalion didn’t want a human being, he didn’t want another messy, needful thing. He wanted Galatea precisely because she wasn’t a human woman. The moment of revelation that humanity is a woman’s greatest fault is as quietly devastating as the rest of Air Doll’s running time combined.

Periodically, Koreeda’s camera veers through the lives of a handful of tangentially related souls, each more crushed by loneliness than the last. These montages tweak the film’s tone, set it in a slightly different, more foreboding direction.  

Hirokazu Koreeda made Air Doll in 2009, but it’s never gotten a US release. It hits American theaters and streamers Friday. Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to watch it, trust me on that one, but watch it nonetheless.

Crime Family


by George Wolf

“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”

A softly nuanced testament to home being where the heart is (and the Palme d’or winner at Cannes), Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters finds its considerable magic by letting small moments reveal big emotions.

On their way back from pilfering a few items at the local grocery, a Japanese father and son find a young girl named Yuri outside alone, shivering in the Tokyo chill.

They take Yuri home for the night, with a plan to help her return to her parents the next day. But Yuri endears herself to the extended family of small time crooks she’s introduced to, and as Yuri’s behavior points to a possibly abusive home life, it is decided that she should stay.

Writer/director Koreeda returns to the nature vs. nurture themes he has probed throughout his career, most notably in Nobody Knows (2004) and Like Father, Like Son (2013). What defines a family most: bloodlines or genuine love?

Yuri joins a house crowded with characters who may or may not be blood relatives. Slowly, we learn about their lives outside the home, and the part each plays in the network of cons and thefts that allow everyone to keep eating.

The cast is universally charming, and when Koreeda is content to ride the casually observational pace he introduces, Shoplifters works humanistic wonders with its sweet vignettes of love and mercy.

Doubts about the family business slowly creep into the house, though, and with them an unusually heavy weight is added to Koreeda’s hand. Interactions begin to carry pregnant dramatic pauses that only highlight the surprising obviousness of the dialog that follows.

The catch-22, of course, is that it is the subtle effectiveness of the film’s first two acts that makes the hurried nature of the final act seem more desperate than it actually is. Disturbed only momentarily, the spell cast by the memorable family in Shoplifters is still sturdy, and one not that easily broken.

Boy Interrupted

After the Storm

by Christie Robb

There’s something about being a parent that helps you put into context and process the resentments you held about your own parents’ mistakes. You understand why they zigged when they should have zagged. Having the responsibility to create some sort of stability and comfort for a child drives home the fact that adulting is something that we make up as we go. None of us is perfect. And we all make mistakes. So, we treasure, even more, the good memories.

After the Storm is a meditation on this theme. Writer/Director Hirokazu Koreeda centers the film on Shinoda Ryôta (Hiroshi Abe), a moderately successful novelist turned private detective. Shinoda mourns the death of his father, the demise of his marriage, his separation from his adolescent son, a stalled career, and a gambling addiction.

He’s at the point where he has to decide whether to give up hope for being a late-bloomer and admit failure.

Unable to find happiness in his present life outside of a cheap high in the midst of a gambling binge, he’s eternally looking backwards at the opportunities he let slip away or dreaming about a future where he can finally buy his kid that new top-of-the line baseball glove, finish his novel, oust his ex’s new boyfriend, or win the lottery.

After the death of his father (also a gambling addict), Shinoda starts showing up at his mom’s house to help her out a little bit, to give her some spending money, and also to look for stuff to pawn. He’s months behind on child support. He’s turning down paid writing gigs to blackmail high school students. He’s spying on his ex.

One day, on a visitation with his son, Shinoda takes him over to his mom’s so the kid can visit with his grandmother and Shinoda can weasel a free meal. The weather turns bad just as Shinoda’s ex-wife (Yôko Maki) drops by for pickup. A typhoon ultimately strands the estranged family together at Shinoda’s mom’s cramped apartment. Initially awkward, the forced extended contact gives Shinoda a chance to live in the present, confront some of his flaws, and recreate a treasured moment that he shared with his father.

This isn’t a simple movie of redemption. But it’s not a melancholic tear-jerker either. It is a movie that will make you think about what kind of person you thought you might be when you grew up and weigh that against your assessment of your current character. And if you are a parent, it might make you wonder about what particular moment your kid might remember years later and wish to relive.