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Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend
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by Jay Seaver

"Dark pink."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend" ("Figyua na Anata" in the original Japanese) is just as bizarre a movie as its name makes it sound, and it gets a little stranger if you start following hyperlinks on the online movie database of your choice and discover that star Tasuku Emoto had a bit part in "Air Doll". The latter may not have been a great movie, though it has its partisans, but how do you look at the script for this one and not see it as a much more crass version of that? It's got the potential to be something, sure, but filmmaker Takashi Ishii seldom gets far enough out of the gutter to even start to realize that potential.

Emoto plays Kentaro, an office worker who gets fired in part for surfing to porn sites on the company's internet connection, and when he gets home... Well, you know those figures of busty anime characters that make you shake your head and say "oh, Japan!" when you encounter one in a pop-culture shop? An apartment full of them isn't just kind of tacky, but downright icky. Soon, Kentaro is drunk in a scuzzy part of the city, skipping out on his bill and being chased by various toughs. He eventually ends up in a storeroom full of various mannequins, and when he's cornered, an unusually realistic one comes to life and fights his assailants off. He takes it home, and soon enough his worlds seems to have shrunk to just himself and Kokone (Kokone Sasaki), who is sometimes real and sometimes plastic.

I don't necessarily want to have this in my head, but when a character spends a lot of time talking about whether the extremely lifelike mannequin he's pawing has a vagina (or, really, any sort of hole down there), it's kind of weird to have the area in question blurred out when it is in the camera's view, right? Okay, forget I just wrote that. But there's no denying that for a movie that is pretty constantly shoving sex in the audience's face, backing off the question relatively visibly is kind of distracting. And there's a lot of sex in this movie; remove the blurring out of the actual penetration and maybe cut it down some (I get the impression 112 minutes is pretty long for an adult movie), and it would be easy to suggest that that's all it is.

Still, it's not hard to see that writer/director/original manga-ka Takashi Ishii has ideas about living within fantasies and objectification he'd like to address; if he was just trying to make an adult film, he could certainly both be a lot more straightforward and make Kentaro more a sympathetic audience surrogate. Instead, the film spends it's time down in the muck without any particular illusions. Still, there are flashes of wit - he seems to be onto something interesting with how Kokone seems to move between woman and doll based on how she's treated at various points, for instance - even if what they imply about what's going on is often contradictory. It often feels like the filmmaker came up with something symbolic but wound up more interested in the different things he could do with it than doing one thing really well.

The cast soldiers through this as well as they can; Emoto is saddled with a lot of questionable decisions (including a fair number of drunken monologues to himself), but it's hard to argue that he's anything but committed to this character; Kentaro is a pathetic, pervy little guy, and it never seems like the actor is just going through the motions. And while Kokone Sasaki is basically playing a sex doll come to life, she does well at letting a personality form, with Kokone-the-character arguably feeling more human than Kentaro by the end. The rest of the cast - well, none of them are around for a very long time, and the budget of this movie isn't such that Ishii can afford to fill it with impressive supporting actors.

In a way, that kind of makes "Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend" a throwback to some of the "classic" pink films of the 1960s and 1970s, where ambitious directors could sneak subversive ideas into their skin flicks so long as they stayed under budget and hit their quotas of sex and other nudity. This one isn't quite ambitious enough to feel genuinely subversive, though, and may be too downbeat to be enjoyed just for the sex.

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originally posted: 08/19/13 08:53:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Takashi Ishii

Written by
  Takashi Ishii

  Tasuku Emoto
  Kokone Sasaki
  Naoto Takenaka

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