Despite its premise, Romance Doll (ロマンスドール) isn’t naughty sex drama. It’s an examination of lead Tetsuo’s marriage to his wife and craft.
Romance Doll (ロマンスドール) Synopsis
Art graduate Tetsuo leads a fulfilling, demanding, and secretive life. His masterpieces at a sex doll factory sell well and he is popular with his colleagues. He is also blissfully married to Sonoko, whom he fell in love with at first sight. The problem though, Sonoko has no idea that Tetsuo is in the sex industry; she thinks he’s making prosthetics. Worse, the couple met under highly questionable circumstances. These secrets, expectedly, soon pose great threats to Tetsuo’s marital life.
I confess. I was scouring Netflix for something … spicy to watch when I chanced upon this Japanese movie. The likes of Call Boy.
The synopsis intrigued me right away. Ten minutes into the show, I also realise I did not hit jackpot. Repeat: did not. For sexy as the premise is, Romance Doll is all about the marital missteps of “art sculptor” Tetsuo, so poignantly played by actor/singer Issei Takahashi.
How to explain? The story begins as a series of lies. Unemployed Tetsuo is conned into visiting a sex doll factory, in hopes of a sculpturing job. After accepting the post on a whim, his first creation is rejected by his boss, the aftermath of which is Tetsuo and his mentor devising a naughty scam to get their hands on a real-life reference.
A lot of subdued humour suffices this introduction, comedy that then blossoms into a beautiful, Anime-like love confession. Following which, the real story begins as Tetsuo’s seemingly blissful life disintegrates.
Let me put it this way. The messages of the show are straightforward enough. As the synopsis implies, the tale is all about the destructive nature of lies within a marriage. On a deeper level, it’s also about Tetsuo’s very poor decisions while managing his career and family life. The great irony being he wasn’t even enthusiastic about his job at the start.
There is a lot of fodder for discussion. On these, director Yuki Tanada probes the thorny issues with a quiet, confident hand. She never relies on hysteria or fiery confrontations to explore the conflicts. Instead, the movie is maintained at a serene, almost polite step. Her method works, to an extent.
Vice versa, the story, for all its emotional depth, stands too much on Tetsuo’s point of view. As I highlighted in my visual summary, Sonoko is near enigmatic and you never truly get a grip on her thoughts. The way the final act plays out, you also can’t help but get the impression she views herself as a love doll in bizarre competition with the ones her husband crafts.
It’s mildly befuddling; toes into weird territory too. Had it not been for Issei Takahashi’s masterful acting, the whole story would have spiraled into the absurd.
Coming to the question of … sauciness, well, there’s certainly a lot of skin in this J-movie but take note, at least 80 percent is synthetic.
It’s also not lost on me that to some viewers, Tetsuo’s disposition and statements could come across as unforgivably chauvinistic. Many reviews have complained about this.
On that, all I can say is, look beyond his words. The trauma he was living, I suspect the dialogue is but a reflection of his haplessness.
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