One of the lead contenders for the strangest movie of the year, this self-funded journey into the surreal will leave most scratching their heads.
Only a few years ago, anthology film Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) gave us a few hours of offbeat sequences, complete with its own commercials and an intermission sequence. One of the directors of that surreal monolith was Shunichiro Miki, who transitions from funky to warped in another series of non-sequiturs that sits stylistically somewhere between Survive Style 5+ (2004) and A Honeymoon in Hell: Mr. & Mrs. Oki’s Fabulous Trip (2011), but fails to match either. In The Warped Forest, Japanese ad agency favourite Miki self-funds his way into a unique if not entirely cohesive feature.
To explain the plot of The Warped Forest would be to defeat its spirit of imaginative misdirection, but it begins in black and white, with three businessmen discussing events and drinking sake. We rapidly shift focus not only to colour, but to an alternate dimension where the trees grow out of women, and bear yonic fruit. Money is stored in belly-buttons in the form of chestnuts, giants work alongside regular-sized people and guns fire out of genital-shaped nozzles. Above this world floats an inverted pyramid, circled by a self-replenishing orb.
The Warped Forest has all the style and flair of Miki’s commercial influence, but it also shows demonstrates the gap in the storytelling techniques between short and feature. Where commercials only have about 30 seconds to tell a story, Miki stretches out these short segments over a full-length film. Relentlessly weird films are undoubtedly necessary to top-up our dreams and fuel our nightmares, but Miki’s film is more like a series of hit and miss sketches than it is a feature. As the sections blur and crossover, the movie becomes like a dream, a suggestive Alice in Wonderland. This is notionally a solid concept, but Miki gets so caught up in his own weirdness, the film often forgets there is an audience sitting at the other end of the rabbit hole.
Most will speak of The Warped Forest in terms of “something you’ve never seen before”, but this is not always a good thing in and of itself. It is admirable that Miki has attempted to craft an original vision here, one that is Lewis Carroll by way of David Cronenberg. The film is beautifully shot, and the layers of weird are so pristine and colourful that you begin to believe in them. Yet the subject matter is ultimately better suited to shorter subjects. We could say more, but you’d never believe us.
The Warped Forest played at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2012.