RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There’s a strange phenomenon in Japan. Blanketed by loneliness and threatened by shifting gender roles, many men are forgoing traditional relationships in favor of silicone sex dolls.
This may seem like a folly, but it’s a cultural epidemic that could cost the country dearly. “Substitutes” outlines the consequences of this crisis through a series of fascinating personality portraits.
The country’s low birth rate reflects a lack of interest in human-to-human sexual contact. If this trend continues, it is estimated that the population in Japan could decrease by as much as 1/3 over the next three decades.
The documentary profiles several subjects who shed light on this curious lifestyle choice’s psychological and societal motivations.
A sex doll vendor struggles to keep pace with increasing customer demand. Each doll is designed with as much realistic detail as possible, though the lifeless eyes and fixed features betray the appearance of a death mask. Regardless, his customers are confident that these creations can fill a void in their personal lives.
Another subject of the film – a 62-year-old married man – carries on a relationship with his inanimate doll and speaks of the refreshing lack of complications such an arrangement entails.
He sits beside her at a bar, orders her a drink, transports her by wheelchair to view a sunset over Mount Fuji, and carries on intimate conversations as though they are the only two people.
Another retired man shows off the closet of dainty dresses he keeps for his trio of silicone companions. They provide him with a much-needed reprieve from feelings of grief and isolation following the death of his wife.
These anecdotes aren’t limited to the male population. The percentage of females interested in forming marriages and families is also dropping. Some own their dolls and use them as a form of comfort therapy.
“Substitutes” does not impose its moral judgment; it merely allows its subjects to speak for themselves. The viewer can determine whether this trend is a harmless band-aid on the agonies and emptiness of solitary life or a path to inevitable extinction.