Sunday, July 07, 2013

Japan Cuts ’13 & NYAFF ’13: The Warped Forest

Does directed dreaming lead to bad luck?  Anything is possible in Shunichiro Miki’s world.  Now who’s hungry for dumplings?  Viewers really should fortify themselves before tumbling into Miki’s The Warped Forest (trailer here), which screens today as a co-presentation of the 2013 Japan Cuts and New York Asian Film Festival.

Warped Forest is not really a sequel to the two-and-a-half hour psychedelic head trip, Funky Forest: The First Contact, Miki co-directed with two co-conspirators.  However, it shares a similar sensibility.  Three men are getting drunk while the oldest relates a story about his budding boy-band dancer students who mysterious materialized in the nearby forest one night. Next thing they know, the agitated innkeeper bursts in.  Evidently, they too had been missing for the last two days.  Warped now flashes back, ostensibly showing viewers those two eventful days, but in a very strange and different world.

There is a narrative thread to the film that follows, but it impossible to describe in rational terms.  The professor is now a baker, who periodically sneaks off to the local cat house, where an otherworldly anteater-like creature attaches itself to his nipple.  Humans live and work side-by-side with either giants or Lilliputians, depending on one’s perspective.  Apli hunts the snark-like Pinkie Pankie with a decidedly phallic rifle, while her sister Au Lait harvests fruit resembling certain organs from the naked nymph trees.  She quietly pines for the local self-help guru, whose wife obsessively sharpens his samurai sword.

Eventually, just about everyone considers dream-hacking, which can apparently be done with the help of the ominous black inverted pyramid spinning overhead, bringing to mind The Tripods or V.  Frankly, if this is a case of a corrupted Matrix program, it would explain a lot.

Of course, Miki is not interested in banal explanations.  He wholly funded Warped himself through ten years of commercial work.  His independent spirit is admirable and obviously necessary.  It would be worth the price of admission just to see him try to pitch this film to a studio.  A whole lot of inventiveness went into Warped and a lot less logic. There are some oddly touching scenes in which characters try to forge connections, but the film’s overriding mission is to lead us on a guided tour of its mature, drug-influenced Candyland.

Somehow, Miki still managed to attract some big name stars to Warped, including Rinko Kikuchi, the Oscar nominee for Babel soon to be seen in Pacific Rim.  Viewers interested in either of those films should definitely check out Warped too, because how different can they be?  Kill Bill co-star Yôji Tanaka seems to be on a mission to make his filmography weirder with the recent punk rock dystopian Shakespeare non-adaptation Sado Tempest and his rather fearless and sometimes shirtless turn here as the baker/professor.  To their credit, the entire ensemble takes each scene scrupulously seriously and gives it their all.

You should have concluded long ago whether or not Warped Forest is your cup of tea.  For cult film connoisseurs, the bright colors, up-tempo music, and optimistic vibe of Forest are a rather refreshing change of pace from the dour, fatalism that often characterizes the cinema of the surreal.  Recommended for mature adults who want to see something new and bizarre, The Warped Forest screens tonight (7/7) at the Walter Reade and next Sunday afternoon (7/14) at the Japan Society, as part of this year’s Japan Cuts and NYAFF.