Notes: Air Doll, Dream Lands, and the Colonial Legacy

While Dream and Air Doll deal with two very different kinds of plots, their conceptualization of the dream world is a point of intersection for the two films. In Kim’s film, there is a merging and blurring of distinctions between the dream world and fantasy with the real world. The characters become interchangeable in scene in the field, and the fantastic is fully exposed in Ran’s transformation into a butterfly. In Koreeda’s film, it begins briefly with the introduction of a “real” world or the world prior to Nozomi coming to life. The camera then switches to her point of view as she slowly comes to life, and then it switches back to its previous perspective. This switch already signals to the shift I the world of one that is reality to one that is fantasy. The fantasy in Air Doll, however, is short-lived, and the world is suddenly jolted into one where reality takes precedent in Junichi’s death. She cuts him thinking that he can be reinflated. After he bleeds to death, she throws him out with the combustible garbage, and her death marks the end of the film with her transformation into dandelion seeds. Both films, Dream and Air Doll, deal with the notion of the division between fantasy and reality and explores whether such a division exists. Moreover, both seem to reject the notion that fantasy and reality are mutually exclusive. Yet, the moment that the dream world and the real world converge, the result is the death of those participants making it seem as though such a convergence is in the end impossible.

Perhaps a more fitting notion is the idea of a place in-between reality and fiction. Although both result in the death of the main characters, their suspension throughout the film in a space that is the fantastical mimicking the real, the real mimicking the fantastical, both the real and the fantastic, as well as neither real or fantastic leads to the exploration of such boundaries as well as notions of what it means to be human and have a heart. In a way the recognition of humanness and having a heart makes a nod towards the idea of momento mori. In Air Doll, the moment she gains a heart is also the moment where the possibility of a kind of death appears. At the end of the film, it is only after she learns how to love another human being and of his death that her death occurs.

While Air Doll like Dream explores the idea of dreams, fantasies, and reality, the notion of a colonial inscription is unavoidable. Already, there is a Korean actress playing a sex doll. Another aspect that highlights the possibility of a reading in light of Japan’s colonialism of Korea is the fact that Bae Doona’s character speaks Japanese throughout the film. Nozomi repeats certain phrases throughout the film emphasizing the awkwardness of her speech. For both Nozomi as a sex doll due to the fact that sex dolls do not naturally speak and Bae as a non-Japanese speaking actress, it is a language that is learned and, therefore, not native, much like the institution of Japanese as the taught language in Japan’s former colonies of Taiwan and Korea. Nozomi, as a character, indeed does not have an ethnic identity as she is manufactured illustrated by the short scene where Odagiri Jo appears as the sex doll maker. It is, however, difficult to ignore that the manufacturing of a specific kind of subject was also part of the colonial plan.


Air Doll, 2009. Hirokazu Koreeda.


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