again, another film dramatizes the dangers posed to humanity by forests, yet
refuses to take up the cause of deforestation. In this case, those woods are
truly lethal. We are talking about the Aokigahara forest below Mount Fuji,
considered the world’s top suicide destination site (previously seen in the
horror movie, The Forest). An
American has come to do what depressed people do here, but a New Agey woo-woo
encounter might change his mind in Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees (trailer
which opens today in New York.
you are in this movie, you probably don’t have much to live for. Arthur Brennan
certainly feels that way, at least initially. As we learn during an
interminable series of flashbacks, Brennan is wracked with guilt over the death
of his wife Joan, even though she was a real pill up until she was diagnosed
with a terminal brain tumor. Frankly, his suicidal despair just doesn’t follow
from the long agonizing scenes of marital discord Van Sant mercilessly inflicts
on his viewers.
just as Brennan is about to put the audience out of its misery, he stumbles
across the badly wounded Takumi Nakamura, a laid-off salaryman, who entered the
forest with similar intentions. With their survival instincts kicking in,
Brennan and Nakamura will work together to weather the harsh elements and
hopefully find their way out of the supernaturally dense woods.
the film sort of perks up during the survivalist second act, but it eventually
descends into a maudlin orgy of on-the-nose symbolism and eye-rolling
sentimentality. Is there really a Nakamura with Brennan or is he a
psychological projection or maybe even a helpful spirit? Oh, but it is so
basically, Sea of Trees is Swiss Army Man without the fart jokes. No
question about it, the best thing about the film are the trees, which
cinematographer Kasper Tuxen’s wide angles manage to make look both serene and
sinister. Matthew McConaughey struggles valiantly, wisely taking an understated
approach to the overwrought material on his plate, but it is a losing effort. As
Nakamura, Ken Watanabe looks like he is counting the seconds until he can leave
the dank, muddy forest. In her not so brief scenes as Joan Brennan, Naomi Watts
seems to be auditioning for a revival August:
Osage County, but she is still a thousand times more subtle and reserved
than Meryl Streep. Yet perhaps most baffling, emerging Japanese star Hyunri
(who was absolutely revelatory in The Voice of Water) has a throwaway walk-on-cameo as a flight attendant.
is one of those films whose unforgiving
reception at Cannes has given it a notorious vibe. All the ruckus
tomato-throwing often creates a perversely sympathetic climate among domestic critics
for such films (like Only God Forgives),
until we get a chance to see them. Granted, Sea
is not wildly offensive, but the Cannes press corps still wasn’t far wrong.
Not recommended, The Sea of Trees opens today
(8/26) in New York, at the Village East.
Labels: Aokigahara Forest, Gus Van Sant, Ken Watanabe, Matthew McConaughey