A Lifeless Romance
There’s a lot of stigma attached to love dolls. Even now, in an age of acceptance and understanding, owning and using a love doll is still something that’s frowned upon. Japanese movie Romance Doll is an interesting drama in that respect. With an intention of breaking down some of the preconceptions surrounding love dolls, the film slips up when it matters most, throwing in an abundance of long shots, an overlong run-time and a bare-bones story that, while emotionally engaging, takes far too long to get to the point.
The story begins with a brief moment of foreshadowing before jumping back 10 years. It’s here we meet Tetsuo Kitamura. This eager, enthusiastic young man begins working as a modeler at a doll-making factory but his first attempt is laughed out the building, partly thanks to the disproportional breasts. Instead, he’s told to bring a model in for a more realistic depiction of body proportions. It’s here we meet Sonoko and immediately it’s love at first sight for Tetsuo.
What follows from here is a part-romance/part slice-of-life drama as Tetsuo keeps his true work a secret from Sonoko while their relationship blossoms and leads to marriage. Only, Sonoko has a secret of her own and across the 2 hour run-time, these come crashing to a head during the climactic third act that rounds things out nicely with a befitting final scene.
What begins as a simple task of making dolls to serve its clientele becomes something much more heartfelt and meaningful toward the end of the film. There’s some nice scenes late on with a grief-stricken Tetsuo and these are arguably the strongest moments in the entire picture. The aforementioned final scenes are a great way to end this one too; a look back at how far this industry has come and a nod to an earlier joke made by Tetsuo when he first started working.
The biggest problem this movie has though is with its pacing. There’s so many unnecessarily long shots here and on top of that the movie adds agonizing stretches of silence. The result is something that feels lifeless and lacks the energy and enthusiasm needed to keep your attention across the 2 hour run-time. This is a film that requires a lot of patience but if you’re willing to give it some time, the third act does give some decent pay-off.
The ideas are there and no doubt some will take to the premise, which is at least original enough to check out. Unfortunately the movie feels overlong and lacks the pacing needed to drive a romance like this. There’s definitely some brownie points for the acting and normalizing this industry, but beyond that Romance Doll is sadly a forgettable drama that could have been so much more.