The first film he's written and directed, but hasn't starred in, for over six years, Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's "Dolls" marks a change of pace for the internationally acclaimed artist.
Moving away from the stylish yakuza gangster thrillers tinged with philosophical musing that Kitano made his name with, "Dolls" is an interesting, though deeply flawed, attempt to stake out new territory.
Opening with the traditional Japanese puppetry of Bunraku, "Dolls" treats almost all its characters as string-tied blocks of wood to be manipulated by the director in search of a deeper truth.
Comprised of three stories - a pair of "bound beggars" wandering though Japan; an ageing yakuza boss searching for the woman he abandoned 30 years earlier; a pop star who's about to meet her most insistent fan - "Dolls" revolves around the theme of undying love. Yet, while Kitano obviously believes his subject matter is deeply moving, the result is a film of stunted emotional development.
Taking us through all four seasons, before coming full circle on itself, "Dolls" is an infuriating journey that's saved by individual moments polished enough to delight or amuse, but with an overall lack of purpose that many will find disappointing.
Fortunately, it looks absolutely stunning, with cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima (Kitano's regular director of photography and a collaborator on everything from "Boiling Point" to "Sonatine" and "Brother") capturing the fragile beauty of Kitano's vision in a way that the director's own script resoundingly fails to do.
Kitano, a filmmaker whose work usually hones in on its target audience with uncanny accuracy, seems uncertain what these stories are supposed to say other than the fact that love can sometimes conquer all.
It's a nice sentiment, but hardly worthy of being given so much attention by one of the world’s most gifted filmmakers.
In Japanese with English subtitles.