FF2012: 'The Warped Forest'

Fantastic Fest continues its celebration of Japanese oddities

'The Warped Forest' plants some odds seeds at Fantastic Fest
'The Warped Forest' plants some odds seeds at Fantastic Fest

You can't really review The Warped Forest. You can just prepare people for it.

That's not a bad thing, and this is not an A Serbian Film-style warning. It's that The Warped Forest is so dreamlike, so peculiar, that it's best to let wash it over you.

Three salaryman friends go to a spa in the forest, where they share weird dreams about the staff and three female guests: That they all live and worked together in an odd parallel world, where oddball furry creatures (imagine if Naked Lunch-era Cronenberg started designing kids toys. Yeowch) make squeaky sounds in the woods, normal-sized women contend with teeny-tiny foot fetishists, and odd stone obelisks with peculiar lights allow people to play games in their sleep.

That's one way of looking at it. The other is that a bunch of people who live in the big-small-fetish-obelisk-furry-creature warped forest dream a dream dreams of our own grey little world.

And director Shunichiro Miki is quite satisfied to never explain which is reality, or why each has their own peculiar language of dreams. Why should he? There's no need to explain why the residents of the forest pay for everything with small nuts they keep in their belly buttons. No-one expects internal consistency from The Wizard of Oz or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Admittedly, neither of those has quite so many scenes about men the size of a green plastic army man asking a giant to insert him, well, up inside.

Potentially, it makes a lot more sense if you've seen quasi-maybe-sorta prequel, Fantastic Fest 2006 gem The Funky Forest. At the time, Marc Savlov called the first film "a semirandom series of synaptic misfires cued to Japanese pop-culture iconography and general weirdness." Maybe Warped Forest clears a path through the Funky Forest, but I'm not laying good odds on that. Instead, it's best to take Warped Forest on its childish, childlike, gentle sensibilities on the film's own terms. Like a lazy day, gazing into a stream, watching reflected clouds and drifting leaves interact into the water's surface. There's not much deeper than that, but there is a warmth and a tenderness, mixed with the Japanese penchant for bodily fluids as a route of all comedy (the gun-as-penis metaphor has rarely been drawn more squishily, unexpectedly or hilariously.)

If it wasn't for some oddball fetishes, such as some pretty serious nipple torture, and naked tree women who dispense oddly sensual fruit, this would be very kid-friendly. Instead, it delves deeply and sweetly into an odd world of longing, pinku daydreams, and strange fluffy, fuzzy realms of pleasure.

Fantastic Fest presents The Warped Forest D: Shunichiro Miki, Monday Sept. 24, 8.45pm.

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