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Warped Forest, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Yes, I suppose "Warped" is stranger than "Funky"."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Understand this: "The Warped Forest" isn't a sequel to "Funky Forest: The First Contact" (the famously trippy film director/co-writer Shunichiro Miki made with Katsuhito Ishii and Hajime Ishimine); it's a movie Miki made out of the ideas that were too weird to fit into even such a surreal picture. Funny thing, though; even though this thing is weird down to its very bone marrow, it's actually more linear and character-based than its antecedent, while still being very funny.

Though the action starts in a world much like ours - except that a few guests at a host springs resort find themselves randomly displaced in time and/or space - action soon shifts to a sort of parallel universe, where alternate versions of the same three trios are followed: Three middle-aged male friends, three sisters, and three young men in a dance club. Their lives intersect in various ways, and despite the peculiarity of their world, the way they talk about "dream-tinkering" suggests that our more logical universe is the one that's unreal.

Just how odd is this place? Well, let's consider the activities of the sisters. Peach works in a shop scaled for Lilliputians and must deal with a tiny pregnant woman looking for the manager. Apli is using an amazingly phallic gun to hunt the elusive Pinky-Panky, and Au Lait collects Kitaka fruits, which one initially thinks kind of look a bit like different reproductive organs... Then Miki shows us the trees they grow on and oh good lord! That doesn't touch upon the obelisks, the use of acorns as currency, or the really weird (and occasionally kinky) stuff. It may not all be top-ten strangest things the audience has ever seen in a movie, but it happily offers up plenty of time when the viewer may find he or she needs to pick his or her jaw up off the floor to properly ask "What. The. Hell?"

And yet, despite all the madness on display, there's method, too. Miki and co-writer Yuuka Oosumi build a world that may not be as internally consistent as some, but whose flora and fauna are enjoyably tactile - practical effects seem to be used wherever possible, and even the interactions between differently-scaled humans are fairly believable. The characters' stories intersect in ways that reinforce the universe, and are all motivated by recognizable human drives.

The human beings playing these characters seldom get completely upstaged by the weird things with which they share the screen. Although a cast list has thus far been hard to come by (and until the movie lands a distributor, digging any info up on the web, let alone any in English, will be tricky), it's a genuinely good ensemble cast; nobody really steamrolls over their castmates, and while everybody will have their favorite moments and characters - I'm kind of partial to Moppo's crush on Apli and her determined tromp through the woods - it rarely feels like any particular storyline is getting notably short shrift.

That's a bit of a mixed blessing at times - the movie could use a breakout character or a strong central plot if it wants to stick in audience's collective heads as more than a set of odd visuals; otherwise, Miki emptying his bank account to make this movie seems like a very questionable choice. It does seem to have a central theme of how one shouldn't believe that the grass is greener elsewhere - the dream world the characters often obsess over is monochromatic and bland compared to theirs and its wonders - even if Miki doesn't obviously hammer at it.

Not that it really needs to - the bizarre imagery is worth a few pocos from your belly button, so any profundity would be a bonus. It's an enjoyably weird experience, warped beyond funkiness, but as charming as it is strange.

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originally posted: 08/29/12 12:11:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/06/12 Albert Great! 5 stars
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