The small town of Nagoro, Japan, used to be home to hundreds. Now it has a population of just 37 people ... and 350 life-size dolls. Ayano Tsukimi is one of its living residents, and the short documentary "Valley of Dolls" tells how she came to fill the void left by the departed. The hundreds of dolls that line the roads, work the fields and even fill the closed-down school were sown by Tsukimi over the course of 10 years. The story is heartbreaking, and yet beautiful, as skillful cinematography and Tsukimi's plain-spoken Japanese narration give Nagoro an ethereal feel. It sounds like the premise of a creepy horror movie, but somehow her smiling cloth neighbors end up feeling like a logical answer to a global dilemma.
Japan's demography is more than 90 percent urban, and it is shrinking by 165,000-plus people a year. It's not so different from the United States, where a massive move to the cities and an aging population have left small communities struggling or abandoned. As politicians continue their perpetual hand-wringing over the plight of rural America, we can take some solace in knowing it is a universal problem. The documentary shows us Tsukimi's singular solution.