In the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her, lonely protagonist Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with an operating system or “bot” designed to meet his every need. In the film Jonze explores this unlikely relationship in a way that challenges the viewers pre-conceived notions of love and intimacy with what these terms may come to mean in a technology-driven era.
The bot — Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson — is programmed to grow as it learns, fast becoming more than just an ideal personal assistant and far exceeding the capabilities of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to develop into Theodore’s prime confidant. Her knowledge of him is formed primarily from his online history and, as they grow “closer,” she evidently adapts to reflect the specificities of his wants and needs. She essentially becomes a virtual projection of his desires.
But however many parallels one might be able to draw between Jonze’s Her and the technology-driven world he seeks to reflect and explore, does the idea of someone falling in love with an inanimate object remain something of a fantasy?
Perhaps not. Seeking to combat his own struggle with loneliness, 61-year old Senji Nakajima from Tokyo has come to think of his love doll, named “Saori”, as his girlfriend. A series of photographs taken by Getty Images photographer Taro Karibe documents Nakajima’s unusual relationship with the silicone doll with whom he says he has fallen in love. Nakajima is married and has two children, but due to his line of work lives far from his family. The life-size doll accompanies Nakajima for walks — or rather, he pushes her along in a wheelchair — on boat rides, for romantic evenings in, and even gets tucked up in bed next to him as he drifts off to sleep at night.
Speaking of his silicone parter, Nakajima told The Washington Post, “She never betrays … I’m tired of modern rational humans. They are heartless … for me, she is more than a doll … She needs much help, but still is my perfect partner who shares precious moments with me and enriches my life.”
Even more so than Samantha, Saori is utterly devoid of agency. She is the perfect receptacle for Nakasjima’s desires while sparing him the bother of having to navigate the emotional complexities and compromises a human-to-human relationship invariably demands — she is whomever he wants her to be. And he is not alone in seeking out this somewhat unconventional, asymmetrical relationship. The use of love dolls, primarily designed for sex but now fulfilling a far more expansive and “human” function, is on the rise across China and there are now more than 50 types of these dolls currently on the Chinese market, according to The Daily Mail.
Where Theodore is eventually abandoned by his virtual partner, whose Google-fed curiosity makes her eventually yearn for greater intellectual and emotional gratification than he, a mere human, can offer, Nakasjima can at least remain secure in the knowledge that Saori will forever remain his inanimate companion. The perfect subservient woman perhaps?
Read the full story at the The Washington Post.