When I explained to a friend that I had just seen a film that featured trees that are actually women with skin colored “branches” that are watered by a woman putting water into her mouth and kissing it into theirs and bear fruit with actual vaginas in them, there was a long pause, as one might expect. At the end of that long, awkward pause, was just one question: “Japan?”
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
The Warped Forest (Asatte no Mori | あさっての森)
Director: Shunichiro Miki
The Warped Forest is a sorta-sequel to 2005’s Funky Forest: First Contact, which is actually meaningless to me because I’ve never seen that movie. I considered watching it before writing this review, but when I learned that A) it basically doesn’t have a narrative and B) it’s 150 minutes long, I figured my time could be better spent doing pretty much anything else. The Warped Forest has enough insanity in its 82 minutes to last me a lifetime. The fact that it’s supposedly less strange than its predecessor makes me both fascinated and horrified by what Funky Forest must be. But I digress.
The Warped Forest is a truly brilliant realization of a completely bizarre world. From beginning to end, the film is committed to its alternate reality and never wavers from it. Almost every shot has something in it that could be considered “wrong,” whether that’s the previously mentioned vagina-fruit tree women or the gun that is actually a penis (kind of), but that’s completely fine. Maybe I never really got my bearings, but that’s only partially the film’s fault. I definitely believe that if I were to watch it again (something I’m not planning on doing), I would be much more comfortable. It may actually be possible that the film is too short for its own good. Almost nothing is explained, but there isn’t really time to do so… Then again Funky Forest is more than an hour longer, so length might not help. The world just is, and everybody has to deal with it.
Fortunately, dealing with it is a lot of fun, and “everybody” part definitely helped. The Warped Forest is a comedy at heart, so it’s easy to just laugh it off when things get really weird. Because it’s supposed to be funny, the immediately uncomfortable confused laughter quickly gives way to real laughter, and the entire experience is better for it. Seeing this film alone would be a mistake; the group “Umm… haha!” dynamic is really necessary. Knowing that the people around me were just as in-the-dark as I was helped a lot, and a shared hallucination is far less disturbing than a singular one. We all laughed together, and that felt good. The audience was clearly having a good time.
But The Warped Forest isn’t all fun and games. There are hints of a narrative, and many of the characters experience serious dramatic events. Relationships begin and end, people are cursed with horrible diseases, and it’s all played as straight as it can be. Many of the characters are obsessed with dream tinkering, something that will allow them to travel through space and time. It’s an expensive proposition, costing lots of pocos (the currency, acorn-esque objects that are stored in the belly button), and it can also have drastic consequences, but the mundanity of their lives makes them want more. Even if their environment and end goal are out-of-this-world, those are the kinds of feelings and emotions that keep the characters somewhat relatable. It’s hard to realize it at the time, but after the fact some of it does make sense. Kind of.
This really isn’t a film that lends itself to a spoiler-free discussion. I mean, it’s hard enough to have a spoiler-filled discussion, because it’s just so out different and the world is so out there. It feels like I’m just kind of going around in circles. “There’s a thing, but it’s crazy… well, mostly crazy. It’s funny, but it’s crazy. Dramatic. Crazy. Awesome. Crazy.” I should really quit while I’m only a little bit behind.
The number beneath this review is kind of meaningless, even if the second sentence in the description suits this film perfectly (the first one… not as much). It’s not really possible to reduce this film into just a couple of sentences. Much more telling are the golden pterodactyls in the big red banner. The Warped Forest is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and apart from Funky Forest unlike anything else out there. At only 82 minutes, its short enough that the weirdness doesn’t overstay its welcome and long enough to feel like there never needs to be another one. I can’t say that I ever want to see it again, but I’d be a liar if I said if I’m not incredibly glad I saw it once.