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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 07.28.09] movie review drama mystery

Year: 2002
Directors: Shinji Aoyama
Writers: Shinji Aoyama & Kaizo Hayashi
IMDB: link
Trailer: N/A
Purchase DVD: Amazon link (released today)
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 8 out of 10

Ahh, those crazy, funny, wacky – and yet oddly thought-provoking – Japanese detectives. If you haven’t yet seen any of the prior trilogy of films featuring Maiku Yokohama (Mike Hammer), then you’re in for a treat. If you have, well, this time Mike is on a case he might not ultimately survive.

Forest opens with a bit of a bang – Mike is being beaten with a golf club over his inability to pay back a debt. Desperate for cash, he agrees to take on case involving a runaway girl who is supposed to marry into a rich family. She’s run away to a retreat in the forest, and Dad wants her back before the nuptials are cancelled. Piece of cake for the hardboiled Mike, but this retreat is unlike any you’ve seen before – sort of an ultimate lodge where you realize your innermost desire.

Given Mike’s oddball outfits, you might expect him to wish for a stack of the world’s worst clothing, but no, it’s much more psychological than that. And menacing. Rather than interacting with the Japanese yakuza culture, Mike finds himself in a totally alien world – surrounded by nature – where a lodge full of zany cultists sit around and do basically nothing until they realize their deepest desire and tearfully “graduate” and leave, with deadly results.

The private eye part of A Forest With No Name is very straightforward. Mike knows where the girl is so he simply borrows a car and drives there. He finds the girl and after a few days of messing about with the other inmates, he simply gets pissed off, grabs the girls and returns her to her father. Cash is exchanged and you’d think life would go on. But no. He returns to the lodge.

In the big picture this isn’t a hard-boiled private eye flick at all… it’s an enigmatic study of the philosophy of life, neatly summed up in a single line: “freedom is an illness”. In psychological terms, it’s actually Freudian -- we get to see the Death Instinct up close and personal. Mike’s most powerful adversary in Forest is his own mind, as he’s inexorably drawn into the world of the cult’s smiling, soft-spoken leader, a woman known only as The Doctor. She likes to answer questions with questions. All her followers are forced to renounce their names, and in a sort of Prisoner-like state they are all given numbers instead. Are they happy? Oddly, no, as you’ll discover for yourself when it comes time to leave. It’s all quite serious, although there are some funny bits, like when The Doctor describes the lodge as an amusement park with almost no attractions. The gang of seekers generally just sits around all day, waiting for their true desire to occur to them, at which time they can “graduate”.

What intrigues Mike, however, is a tree in the forest that apparently looks just like him. Incredulous at first – a feeling I’m sure the viewers would share, given Mike’s electric hair, hawaiian shirt, white shoes and orange pants – the thought takes hold in his normally unpoetic brain and he becomes fixated on the idea. What happens next? You’ll have to watch for yourself.

Originally shot in 2002, A Forest With No Name is usually seen as a study in individualism and society, with references to Kiyoshi Kurasowa’s Charisma (1999) and its themes of trees and forests, society and individualism. Yes, you might read that into this movie, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch as Mike remains a unique and unrepentant character even though all around him are sacrificing their treeness to simply be part of a bigger forest.

Technically, A Forest With No Name is fraught with the downsides of shooting with no budget. Tamra Masaki’s cinematography is often overexposed, but it is winter, so this may be part of writer/director Aoyama Shinji’s overall plan. The edits are pretty chunky, and the subtitles are often hilariously mistranslated, such as using “balled” for “bald”. No matter, though, as this is a story-first movie, not an exercise in camerawork and post-production.

Funny. Enigmatic. Philosophical. Deadly and dumb. Do yourself a favour and take a walk in these symbolic woods with Maiku Hama. But ignore the forest and concentrate on the trees.

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Cyberhal (13 years ago) Reply

I was all fixed up to watch Stray Dog tonight, but I wish I had a copy of A Forest with No Name instead


thejamminjabber (13 years ago) Reply

I'm a fan of the trilogy, so I will be checking this out.

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