Thursday, January 10, 2013

Funky Forest: The First Contact

(2005) Written and directed by Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine and Shunichiro Miki; Starring: Andrew Alfieri, Hideaki Anno and Moyoco Anno; Available on DVD

Rating:  *** ½

Where do I begin? Well, for starters, the wildly eclectic Funky Forest: The First Contact features a forest, and it’s decidedly funky, so it does live up to its name.  Further interpretation is solely at the viewer’s discretion.  There’s probably more weirdness here than in ten other movies, which isn’t a bad thing.  This genre-spanning film defies easy categorization, description, or notions of coherence.

Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine and Shunichiro Miki shared the writer/director chores (Ishii and Miki collaborated previously on The Taste of Tea) for Funky Forest: The First Contact, and gave themselves license to let their imaginations and styles run free.  Instead of a linear narrative with a central story, it’s an anthology of short episodes, linked together by several different threads running throughout.

The Mole Brothers, a white-suited, slapstick duo, serve as our nominal hosts to the madness that follows, in a series of short bridging segments.  While their schtick doesn’t directly relate to any of the other vignettes, their presence serves as a welcome signal that the tone is about to make an abrupt shift.  In addition to the Mole Brothers, several characters appear in a patchwork quilt of recurring segments.  “Guitar Brother” features three unlucky in love siblings.  It’s never explained why one of the “brothers” happens to be Caucasian and significantly younger than his fellow siblings, but it’s just one of many things in Funky Forest that you accept at face value.  In another thread, a pupil discusses the nature of her relationship with her former English teacher (they’re together, but they’re not really dating).  They relate their dreams in a couple of elaborate sequences, accompanied by song and dance.  Woven into the mix are several “Home Room” * segments, which chronicle the bizarre goings-on in a most unconventional high school home room, populated by a mismatched group of students.  In one of the most disturbing/surreal/hilarious moments, a group of music students assemble to play various instruments that are comprised of mutant creatures. 

* Fun fact: Anime enthusiasts will be thrilled by the appearance of animator/director Hideaki Anno (best known for the Neon Genesis series) in a small role as one of the high school students, and in another segment, (surprise!) as an animator.

At more than 150 minutes, Funky Forest starts to wear out its welcome long before it’s over.  The filmmakers probably could have cut an hour from the running time, and said everything that needed to be said (whatever that is).  It feels as if the material had been stretched a little thin at times, probably best digested over several sittings.  Despite the film’s bloated running time, I can’t dislike it either.  I admire Funky Forest’s sheer chutzpah to wave its freak flag high and proud.  The distinctive music and images continue to linger in my brain as I write this, and will likely remain there indefinitely.  I suspect that your capacity to enjoy this film will be directly proportional to your need for everything to make sense. 

To call Funky Forest “dreamlike” doesn’t do it justice.  Acid flashback is more appropriate. If logic and coherence are not your priorities when seeking out movies, then you may have just found your nirvana.  It’s best described as a Dadaist film, heavy on absurdity, and short on logic.  Trying to make sense of everything is missing the point.  What’s the point?  Damned if I know.  In the “making of” DVD featurette, one of the cast members said it best when he remarked, “I think it’s better not to try to understand it.”  ‘Nuff said.

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