Yeah, I know about sex dolls. Sure. They used to be inflatable, although I believe/hope those were mostly novelty items since I’ve sliced my finger on the vinyl seam of a beach ball and don’t think you’d want to risk more favoured appendages to a similar fate. By 2007 things had improved somewhat, if Lars and the Real Girl can be believed. And earlier this year, a Canadian sex doll rental company expanded its locations to better serve the community. For $189 for two hours or $289 for the night, you can peruse their catalog of “girls” (they each have backstories and personalities) and have them discreetly delivered to your door with a guarantee of cleanliness (hopefully the process is a little more rigorous than the whole spray of Lysol into the bowling shoe scenario).The dolls are incredibly life-like, at least to the touch. They have soft skin, chic wigs, and joints that can accommodate any number of positions. They’re so impressive they’re called love dolls now.
Or Romance Dolls, if too many movies have already been titled the former. Tetsuo (Issey Takahashi) never meant to get into the sex doll business, but he was an unemployed art school grad and money talks. As a sculptor, he is tasked with making as realistic a doll as possible, but his first attempt is ridiculed for not being grope worthy enough. He confesses to coworker Kinji (Kitarô) that he hasn’t seen breasts in years, so the two hatch a harebrained scheme to lure a model to sit for a plaster cast by posing as doctors doing research for prosthesis use. Sonoko (Yu Aoi) is a luminous angel, but her session with Tetsuo perfectly sedate. Sonoko is shy and demure, her coyness inspiring “doctor” Tetsuo to catch feelings. It’s a divine miracle that when he runs after her to profess his love, she doesn’t blow her rape whistle. This girl has very poor creep radar.
Like so many love stories, the fairy tale wears off after the wedding. The Sonoko doll proves quite popular, so Tetsuo works overtime, returning home late, so tired from making sex toys for others that his own sex drive is dead. Pressure mounts even more when Tetsuo starts working on Sonoko 2.0. He’s obsessed with the silicone Sonoko but neglects the actual, real life Sonoko sleeping in his bed. Plus there’s the problematic secret between them; Tetsuo never did come clean about his job, so his wife still believes he’s in medicine rather than erotic toys.
Impressively, Yuki Tanada not only adapts from her own novel, but directs the thing too. And it’s got a lot of good pieces: the objectification of the female body, the ultimate rejection of one’s muse, the cancerous nature of secrets…but like a sex doll (I hope/imagine), you can have all the right parts and they still not add up to a satisfying thing. The husband gets a pass because he’s an artist, his wife makes all the sacrifices, and female sexuality is handled in a rather depressing way. Plus there’s the whole “husband preferring the version of his wife who is undemanding and never talks back.” It’s enough to make a feminist ejaculate anger out of her eyes.
And just a quick head’s up to our Dutch readers: in the making of this review, I learned that sex dolls are often referred to in Japan as “Dutch wives.” You, erm, might want to look into that.