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Overall Rating
4

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1 review, 1 rating



Funky Forest: The First Contact
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by Jay Seaver

"Just when I think I've got a handle on Japanese pop culture..."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: This review is sort of useless. I can say, hey, you should watch "Funky Forest: The First Contact", because it's funny and weird. But if I do that, and I do it really well, you'll probably have little option other than importing the DVD when it comes out, and I can totally see this being nothing but strange if it's not seen in a theater full of crazed people laughing, doing some audience participation, being just as confused as you but along for the ride. Unless you know someone who programs theaters and can talk him into a midnight show, you really just aren't going to get the experience we did in Montreal.

Which is cool. There's no particular reason (other than economical) why something must be built to work just as well as a shared theatrical experience and a solitary televised one. Of course, I may be full of crap here, just because this is how I first encountered it. After all, the first thought that went into my head about what this movie was like was not co-director Katsuhito Ishii's previous feature, The Taste of Tea, or another recent Japanese film that jumped between a series of bizarre intersecting stories, Survive Style 5+, but Monty Python's Flying Circus, and they did okay delivering surreal comedy into the living room.

Although Monty Python doesn't really describe Funky Forest, either. This movie is a two-and-a-half hour set of sketches, some recurring, some not but containing characters who show up in other contexts, and others apparently just being totally strange one-offs. We start with a pair of goofy-looking bickering stage comics, and we'll return to them often, though only for a few seconds at a time. Then there's little Hachiko (Maya Banno from The Taste of Tea), who daydreams about being in a weird spacescape when she should be doing her homework. We'll meet the "Unlucky With Women Brothers", featuring the ubiquitous Tadanobu Asano as "Guitar Brother", while another brother encounters the "Babbling Hot Springs Vixens". There's "Notti & Takefumi", a young girl kind-of-sort-of dating the guy who had been her English teacher two years before, who relate weird, musical dreams to each other. Then there's a "Home Room!!!!!!!" full of weird high school students (and Hachiko, and some grown men...). And just when you've figured out that, the movie hits you with a guy in a yellow costume with a long, tail-like thing coming out of his groin and a probe he needs a pretty schoolgirl to stick in her navel. Then there's a series of grotesque little creatures inhabiting the school.

This movie's going to try some folks' patience. Two and a half hours is a lot of sketch comedy at once under any circumstances, and the "intermission" in the middle seems calculated to aggravate it - three minutes with nothing but a blue screen counting down can seem like a long time. The folks next to me got up and left at some point after the intermission; I have to admit, I could have done without the nasty little brown things/shrunken people/bizarre anatomy. The "Tennis Lesson" sketch has bits of all those, and while it's amusing for Asano's straight-faced reactions and the girl's enthusiasm, it's not for the squeamish. An animated segment is just weird.

The flip side of this, however, is that once the audience is a little settled in, they responded with the most enthusiasm I've seen at a movie since Standing in the Shadows of Motown. We called out the last ten seconds of the intermission countdown. Folks applauded the return of bits they'd seen earlier - "Guitar Brother" was especially popular, and folks would imitate the sonorous English announcement. "Takefumi's Dream" had them joining Notti in demanding Takefumi show us his dance. Give this movie a long enough midnight run, and folks might get up to dance along Rocky Horror style. Once the audience has abandoned any pretense of linearity and accepted the bits as they come, they can enjoy the outright insanity for what it is.

I was only able to recognize some of the cast members from other films, and trying to talk about them individually would be unfair to the ones I missed and/or time consuming - the film's website (http://www.nice-movie.com/) has an org chart that displays over forty roles (including a couple CGI creations and a dog) and how they're connected, but as I don't read Japanese, it didn't help me connect names to faces. I like how addled the actor playing Takefumi could get, and the class president who looks serious-minded but admits she really isn't capable of being that way. I'm told several of the actors are actually people who generally work behind the camera, and in anime or manga at that.

Ishii is one of the directors, along with Hajime Ishimine and Shunichiro Miki. The latter two are mainly known for commercials, and all three contributed to the script. Their world can go from ordinary to crazy on a dime, both in terms of actions and the way it's displayed on the screen. How this collaboration worked behind the camera, I have no idea, but it does work, by and large. They've got no interest in going for the chuckle - they want the guffaw, and manage to get a lot of them by the time they're through.

Now, I don't know if anybody will like the whole thing; the film is just much too scattered for that. But the parts a person likes, they'll probably like a lot, and put up with the rest.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14763&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/13/06 01:10:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
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User Comments

8/12/06 Nathan Long, but it had some incredibly funny moments. Absolutely worth seeing, if only once. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  17-Mar-2008

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