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The Forest of Love - Movie Poster
Original Title:
The Forest of Love

Japan 2019

Thriller, Drama

Sion Sono

Kippei Shiina
Shinnosuke Mitsushima
Kyoko Hinami
Eri Kamataki
Sei Matobu
Young Dias
Natsuki Kawamura
Yuzuka Nakaya

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The Forest of Love

The Forest of Love - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Shin (Shinnosuke Mitsushima) comes to Tokyo for the very first time and is accommodated by the wanna-be filmmakers Jay and Fukami. When they get to know that Shin is still a virgin, they bring him to Taeko (Kyoko Hinami), who is leading a pretty permissive lifestyle. However, even she is not interested in the young man and instead introduces the three men to her childhood friend Mitsuko (Eri Kamataki). According to Taeko, her friend badly needs a boyfriend because she still can't let go of the past. Since the death of a mutual friend, Taeko and Mitsuko are not the same anymore, and a joint suicide attempt didn't help their situation either. Mitsuko is not interested in boys, though, and rather spends her time with her dead friend's ghost. But this changes when conman Murata (Kippei Shiina) shows up. He wants to meet with Mitsuko because years ago, she lent him some loose cash. Now, he wants to give her the money back. He poses as a successful script-writer and composer and actually manages to win the girl over. Shin, Jay and Fukami watch Mitsuko and videotape their meetups with a camera. Taeko eventually recognizes the man as she also used to have a relationship with him. Because he is dangerous, she wants to protect her friend, but Mitsuko has already fallen under Murata's spell. Due to his charm, Murata is not only successful with women. Through violence and psychological pressure, he manages to twist men around his finger as well. The three filmmakers therefore want to make a movie based on his life...

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Review: You can imagine that director Sion Sono had no false modesty when getting a carte blanche from Netflix (the way it normally goes with this streaming service) and simply went ahead and shot whatever he wanted to shoot. The result is a movie which incorporates many elements that we already know from his previous works, but he combined them in a way that has never been seen before. And what's more, "The Forest of Love" manages to completely scramble your brains and is so unbearable to watch that you would love nothing better than simply look away. But for that, the events on screen are just too exciting. With its 150 minutes of running time the movie definitely turned out far to long, but because it is absolutely impossible to foresee in which direction the plot develops, the movie never gets boring. The genre mix does not actually work that well, but that's exactly the reason why this movie is such a roller-coaster ride.

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At first, let me say that "The Forest of Love" is not for everybody. Sion Sono creates his own mix of art movie and drama-comedy that is all over the place. It's getting loud quite often and the cast tends to overact, but the movie never gets awkward or unbelievable, unlike other movies. Instead, you feel like being in a parallel universe where all this is just common practice. Maybe the reason for that is the fact that the director's film world is situated somewhere between our reality, insanity and a possible safe haven within our fantasy. This time, however, it is somewhat hard to take in what we get to see. Power, dominance, sadomasochism, murder, love - this combination makes for an explosive cocktail that catches us in a whirlwind of emotions that we would love to get away from. Nevertheless, in the end, you get the feeling that you have just seen a movie that you will remember for quite some time. Moreover, there is always the question: How can all this be based on a true story?

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To be fair, you have to mention that Sion Sono takes a lot of liberties with the source material and that most of it is not part of our reality. Besides, his trip into insanity (as usual) gives room to a lot of creativity. Admittedly, the movie is divided into chapters, but this only manages to structure the flick to some extent. The director jumps back and forth on the timeline as much as he jumps back and forth between characters. In the process, he addresses a lot of issues: traumata, sexual perversion, the sacrifices you have to make for art and people's mental abyss. You constantly have to ask yourself in place of the characters, how everything could have come to that? Well, first of all, no one is perfect in this movie, in fact everyone is even pretty close to being insane. Kippei Shiina ("Rain Fall") plays the conman Murata, who dominates everybody with his sheer presence, perfectly charismatic as well as gross at the same time. His self-confidence does not only help him get every woman he wants, but he is also a leader in general, who manages to bend reluctant people to his will with violence and oppression. However, he almost never takes matters into his own hands, but rather makes others do his work for him.

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Still, Murata is also a master in using people's weaknesses and traumata for his own benefit. Especially with young women he has an easy job of it. To watch how he manages to break their spirit is almost unbearable and even Taeko, who sells her own body to save her friend from this cruel guy, falls victim to his dominance. Even though she is actually a punk and revolts against society after she has lost her true love. By the way, both female leads call this love Romeo. It's the role the deceased schoolgirl was supposed to play, but it is also a symbol for the search for true/real love, which got lost somewhere along the way. Yup, somewhere in this flick, there is a romantic drama hidden, even if Sion Sono, of course, doesn't get close to his four-hour-masterpiece "Love Exposure". However, we also get a crime movie. After all, the news constantly talks about a serial killer, and the director puts huge emphasis on the thriller aspect with Murata's psychological terror.

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"The Forest of Love" over and over again drifts off into madness and - at the latest - when the first body gets dismembered, we also get the high degree of violence which is typical for the director. Even though everything seems a little bit exaggerated, it is not for the faint-hearted. However, it is the psychological pain that is hard to bear. At some point, you find yourself stuck in a real nightmare. But there is also some social criticism and humor. The director is well-known for exaggerating with his symbolism, but you should not forget that he actually wants to say more with that than you can see at first glance. "The Forest of Love" definitely turned out far too long, but the director's exuberant creativity and energy never allows you to get bored. It's just a Sion Sono movie. A movie for Sion Sono fans who can live with the director's rough edges and the stomach ache caused by this movie. It's a movie with a certain rawness to it and it will definitely burn itself into your mind.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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