Forest [1983]

One simply cannot put too fine a point on the experience of watching Funky Forest: The First Contact, a two-hour-plus, genre-defying feature from Japanese directors Katsuhito Ishii (best known for the cult hit Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl), Shunichiro Michi and Hajime Ishimine (a.k.a. Aniki): It is simply unlike any other film, but its consistently ebullient tone and absurd humor should make it a most enjoyable trip for the adventurous moviegoer. As with Ishii's previous effort, The Taste of Tea, the emphasis is on dreamlike visuals and non-linear storytelling, though here, even the most basic plotline is abandoned in favor of a series of rotating vignettes (non-sequiturs, really) about characters caught in absurd scenarios. The "Unpopular With Women Brothers" (Japanese heartthrob Tadanobu Asano, character actor Susuma Terajima, and young Anglo non-pro Andrew Alfieri) struggle to woo girls with woeful songs and complicated dances, while teacher and aspiring DJ Takefumi (Ryo Kase) attempts to win over his student Notti (Erika Nishikado) with mixes and his own elaborate dancing (which blossoms into a dream with full-blown routines opposite animated partners). Elsewhere, Susama presides over a free-form classroom full of exceptionally vocal students (who also perform a musical routine using some David Cronenberg-inspired creatures as instruments), a trio of chatty businesswomen spin elaborate stories about aliens, a dog pens anime storylines (anime legend Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame is featured in the cast), a pair of manic comedians nearly beat each other to death, and the whole thing comes to a lovely and lysergic conclusion in a dream involving Notti (Nishikado provides her own playing) and DJs tuning into the earth itself to create a sort of harmonic convergence. Suffice it to say that Funky Forest is as bizarre as movies get, and its willful incoherence and long running time (which comes with an intermission) may be more than one viewer's undoing, but in its own fractured way, the movie does make a few gentle observations about freeing one's self of unnecessary hang-ups (about school, relationships, etc.) and finding happiness in the simple joys available in each day. And Ishii and his collaborators and cast (which includes Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and several of the players from Taste of Tea and Peach Hip Girl) deliver the madness and the message with impeccable technical quality and honest and funny performances, making this a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience for independent-minded audiences and fans of the filmmakers' unique style. The DVD includes several trailers and TV spots, a making-of featurette that threatens to explain the film (but does no such thing), and director Michi's hilarious demonstration of Susama's complicated dance. -- Paul Gaita

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