When I was still an aspiring stand-up comic in Asakusa (traditional Tokyo neighborhood), I once saw a man and a woman tied to each other with a piece of rope. The townspeople called them the "bound beggars." There were lots of rumors about the couple, but nobody really knew how they ended up becoming vagabonds. The vision of the bound beggars stuck in my mind and I've always wanted to make a film with characters like them. I decided to intertwine this story with two other short stories. The idea of each story came from something I saw or heard in the past, the kind of stories, which are quite common for the Japanese.


It's not like Bunraku inspired the whole screenplay; that idea came later. Initially I wanted to do my rendition of a Chikamatsu-type story, a tragic love story in a contemporary setting. Then Yohji Yamamoto came up with all those rather striking costumes, which inspired me to consolidate the concept of a story conceived by Bunraku dolls and told in the form of a puppet show featuring human characters. DOLLS could be seen as 'human puppets' playing out a story conceived by Bunraku dolls. The film starts during their working hours, their performance. And after their day's work is done, they rest alone and start telling stories.


In the passage of Chikamatsu's "The Courier for Hell" used in DOLLS, the courtesan Umegawa implores her lover Chubei to stop doing a foolish thing for her sake. Chubei and Umegawa eventually decide to run away together. I chose that particular passage to overlap the image of the Umegawa and Chubei dolls trudging on stage with the shot near the end of the film where the homeless couple trudges along the snowy mountain.


There was a time in Japan when characters like these were considered as the very element that made Chikamatsu's world of deep emotions, love and affection, admired by millions. His plays were hugely popular at the time. It's something that may be difficult for modern people to understand. But even today, we hear stories of a woman's attempted suicide to get her man back or a man threatening his ex-girlfriend and saying, "I'm going to kill myself." These people might be downright selfish, but it's not an unusual method for both women and men to hurt themselves or to solicit compassion from others ... I don't think the themes in DOLLS are specific only to Japanese society. Whether it's a matter of politics or a matter of personal relationships, there is a myriad of different types of conflicts in the world. The conflicts depicted in DOLLS are not unusual to contemporary Japanese society, but at the same time, they are also universal.


Just as in Chikamatsu's stories, I dealt with stories about couples in love. But if you look objectively, you'll find each is about a selfish meddling fool ... 'Making a choice' means you have two or more options to choose from. But all the protagonists in DOLLS are possessed with their own selfish wayward idea of which way they should take and act accordingly. They aren't really making choices because they can't see the other options. None of the events in the stories would have happened if the characters were well-balanced enough to make 'choices'. From an objective perspective, the characters might seem really stupid. But they themselves would probably not see it that way.


People have said my films tend to have a monotonous greyish blue. And I thought, "Hell, I've shot films in color." So I thought it would be worth the challenge to try and incorporate various colors, the colors that I had been trying so hard to avoid in the past. Since the film was to be shot in Japan, my obvious choice was to depict the four different seasons in Japan. We have cherry blossoms in spring, glaring sea in summer, red autumn leaves in fall, and snow in winter. Those landscapes are as clich?d as it can get, but I dared to depict clich?d landscapes and make them the guideline for DOLLS. (Production stretched from November 4, 2001, to April 7, 2202, during which the principal photography took place over approximately 40 shooting days.)


In capturing beautiful landscapes I set out to juxtapose them with their cruelty. Such landscapes as those I portrayed inDOLLS, involve a certain kind of cruelty, which is unbecoming to their appearances. Some look the most beautiful when they are at the verge of death, such as cherry blossoms, which fully bloom at the last minute before they fall off or Japanese maple leaves, which put on their autumn colors at the fullest right before they wither and fall off. This implicated cruelty can be emphasized by incorporating characters at the verge of death.
When I depict a glaring summer sea, I'd rather have a beaten-up middle-aged man, possibly a factory owner who has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, contemplating suicide in front of the ocean than to have a happy family taking lunch on a beach. Or when I depict cherry blossoms, I'd rather have a Japanese soldier from WWII sitting under the trees than to have a bunch of people having a hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) party.
I could illustrate what each and every image represents, but what's equally important is to not illustrate them. When you watch DOLLS, if all you think is, "Oh, what beautiful pictures!" then I would be absolutely happy. At the same time, I don't mind if one chooses to find symbolism in the cherry blossoms or summer sea or red autumn leaves.


If I'm with a woman, it's fall. Without a woman, it's summer.


For DOLLS, I gave him creative freedom in terms of costumes, almost as if he were making his own fashion show in the film. Strange as it may sound, I basically let Yohji decide without any indications or discussions.
At the first costume fitting session, Yohji showed us the fall costumes for the bound beggars. Miho, the leading actress, was wearing a red dress, which looked as far as it could get for beggars to wear in real life! When I saw it, I almost fell down to the floor! Yohji asked me, "what do you think?" and I thought to myself, "what the hell am I supposed to think? What are we going do with this?" I literally panicked momentarily. But after a while, I calmed down and decided, "okay, their costumes do not have to be realistic, because it's a 'human puppets' story." With hindsight, that was a critical point in the course of the production of DOLLS, because it was the moment I consolidated the concept of the film.
So I just accepted them as they were and the rest depended on how we, the crew, would use them. we were faced with a reversal of the normal process. Normally, costumes are made in such ways that they match the film. At certain points, we had to make adjustments to locations and continuity to match the costumes.


When it comes to fashion, Yohji Yamamoto has an incredibly elaborate sensitivity to sense what's insensible for us, non-professionals. Whether it's about forms or colors, he can be really meticulous. As non-professionals, we can have great difficulty in catching up with his vision. That's probably what makes him a great fashion designer.


Whether or not I act in one of my films basically depends on my physical condition. When I'm tired I don't act in my film. Also, I have to think about the balance in the whole film. I visualize the possible images of the film and if I think that I, as a protagonist, can carry the film from beginning to end, then I play the role. But if I think I can hardly fit the character, I use another actor. Since I wasn't also acting, making DOLLS was less difficult physically, for sure. Between you and me, the real reason that I didn't appear in DOLLS was because I would have been embarrassed to wear those costumes! Plus, I didn't want to have to walk around in a field of snow in the cold of winter!


The reason why modern Japanese and Westerners loathe the notion of death so much is beyond me. There really is no reason to loathe death. When you think about it, while 'life' is something no one can ever choose, 'death' is something every one can equally choose. treating 'death' as something loathsome, is probably part of the self-preservation system of mankind because we would be extinct if 'death' were philosophically proved to have something good in it. Consequently, 'life' is considered something meaningful. On the other hand, in no religion do we have a philosophy to justify a notion of 'death.' So if death seems like something sublime once wrapped and decorated with an ornament called 'love,' then you'll find something creeping towards you -- a seducing demon called 'death.'


The deaths in DOLLS may seem crueler for some people. And I think that's because DOLLS may be even more violent than a film like BROTHER. It's not guns that kill protagonists. It's something like fate, inevitability or condensed emotions that become like a single bullet and shoot right though the characters. If you look at it this way, then you can say that DOLLS is even crueler and more violent than BROTHER.


I don't want to say that the antonym of tragedy is comedy, but there certainly is another side to the tragic surface of DOLLS. It seems as if DOLLS seesaws between the two. How you perceive this film can considerably differ depending on the position where you stand, your mental state, etc. DOLLS can be perceived completely differently by each person. I can't assert the film is a tragedy, nor can I assert it's the opposite of that. I'm a filmmaker and my job is to 'make' the film. I'm not in the same position as viewers.


Takeshi Kitano's DOLLS salutes the beauty of Bunraku with an excerpt from a performance at Tokyo's National Theater. The play performed is Monzaemon Chikamatsu's story of doomed lovers, "Meido No Hikyaku" ("The Couriers for Hell").

The sophisticated puppet performances of Bunraku make it one of the three major classical theaters of Japan, along with Kabuki and Noh. The intense dramatic art of Bunraku lies in achieving perfect synchronization of three elements -- puppets, narration and music -- for an operatic effect.

Each doll is operated jointly by three men. (Dolls, usually around one meter in height and anywhere from 5-20 kilograms in weight, are made of wood.) Precision timing among the three puppeteers is necessary to achieve each doll's lifelike motion. Detailed rules must be followed; no puppeteer is allowed to act on his own. The puppeteers appear on stage in full view of the audience. The main puppeteer generally appears bare-faced, while the others are "invisible" in black hoods, signifying that the doll is the main performer.

Seated to the right of the stage on an elevated platform, the narrator (tayu) recites the epic poetic text (joruri). Not only does he provide commentary on the storyline, but he is also the voice of all the dolls -- men, women and children. Musical punctuation and atmosphere for the drama is supplied by the player of the shamisen, an ancient three-stringed instrument.

The history of Bunraku began in the 16th Century, its popularity rising spectacularly in the late 17th Century. Since1966, Tokyo's National Theater has supplied Bunraku with a permanent home. In 1985, the National Bunraku Theater was created in Osaka. In addition to several performances a year in those two cities, travelling shows have brought live Bunraku to audiences around the world.

Despite its popularity, the aging of the important backstage workers (doll head carvers, costume makers, etc.) and the lack of people to take their place poses an increasing problem for the future of this over 300-year-old art form.


Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1724)
Chikamatsu is recognized as Japan's Shakespeare. Author of 110 Bunraku plays and 30 Kabuki plays, he profoundly influenced the development of the modern Japanese theater. His domestic dramas of love and duty are accurate reflections of life in Japanese society of the period: his characters are samurai, farmers, merchants, and prostitutes who speak colloquially in shops, tea houses and brothels.

Chikamatsu's works are distinct for adding human elements to the theme of the conflict between social pressure and personal desire. His dramas usually revolve around the tragedy that can arise when one blindly chooses the importance of loyalty (to one's feudal lord, family, etc.) over personal feelings.

A great many of Chikamatsu's plays were about shinju, or love suicides. He made the revolutionary effort of taking a recent event (the death of a courtesan and her lover) and dramatizing it into the play "Sonezaki Shinju" ("The Love Suicides at Sonezaki"). That play spawned not only copies, but influenced others to actually commit double suicide in the hope that their love would live on forever.


Stills data for DOLLS can be used only if the representation and the notation of the copyright are correctly and clearly indicated in space or on screen.