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The Dolls of People Not Here

When a person dies in Ayano Tsukimi’s town of Nagoro, Japan, she makes a doll to mark the fact that they were here.


Screenshot from Valley of the Dolls

Fritz Schumann made a film about her. The short documentary opens: “When I make dolls of dead people, I think about them, when they were alive and healthy.”

I silently asked myself, what does she do when they are mizuko, a “water baby,” lost before they’re born or have lived beyond a brief period of time? How does she craft a doll for someone who was never alive and healthy, with a fully-formed personality? Is there a template she uses for a general child? Or does she meld the parents’ features into a fabric baby? Or are those people’s lives not marked at all, as is the case for the most part in this world?

Maybe this isn’t an issue.  It doesn’t sound as if a lot of people who live there are having babies.

Her town used to be a thriving industrial town, and now it is down to 37 residents. The dolls didn’t start out as replacements for the missing people; the ones who died or moved away. They started out as scarecrows, protectors of the crops that weren’t growing. And then, in time, they became protectors of the woman herself and her emotional well-being. She set them up around the village; doing work outside or in the abandoned school. A town full of dolls to remind the woman of the people who were once important to her.

After I watched the film, I sat and thought for a long time whether I would be comforted or not by dolls in the likeness of the people I love. I am attached to objects they’ve given me. I think I use those tangible objects to still feel close to them. Wouldn’t I feel even closer to the person if I had this tangible reminder of them that looked like them? That could sit in my living room with me? Would it feel lonelier to know that it’s only a doll, or would I feel comforted in the same way that I don’t feel alone with Truman in the house. Even though he’s a guinea pig and isn’t really capable of deep conversation.

I think I’d like to be surrounded by doll versions of people if I couldn’t have the actual people. Even though I’m usually fairly creeped out by dolls.

I wondered if the other people in the town feel comforted over the idea that they’re memorialized in this way.

And then I thought about how people constantly say that the version of the blogosphere they had years ago is gone, those writers sometimes literally dead, but more often than not, they’ve just stopped writing. Some have left other ways to reach them digitally: email, Facebook, Twitter. I consider those people still around. But others have disappeared into the ether. I have no clue how they are, where they are, what their life looks like now.

What would be the digital version of a doll to mark the disappearance of a blogger?

Valley of Dolls from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.


1 Brid { 05.04.14 at 7:08 pm }

I watched this this morning and found it so sad. Just the lamenting of what once was, how something existed, then it didn’t… and it’s not a sentimental golden age sort of thing. The book I wrote my thesis on gave me that same sense . In ‘Down by the River’ there’s a family… then, shortly, no family. I guess it’s that sense of abandonment or vacancy that does me in…

2 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.07.14 at 2:32 pm }

This idea makes me sad. That everything is so temporary. Of course, I should come to terms with this. I do get wistful (especially this time of year, which is my blogoversary) about the blog days of yore.

As time goes on, I have more and more Facebook friends who will never post again.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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