The Forest of Love 愛なき森で叫べ Dir: Sion Sono (2019)

The Forest of Love    Forest of Love Film Poster

愛なき森で叫べ  Ai naki mori de sakebe

Release Date: October 11th, 2019

Duration: 151 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Script) 

Starring: Kippei Shiina (Joe Murata), Shinnosuke Mitsushima (Shin), Kyoko Hinami (taeko), Eri Kamataki (Mitsuko), Young Dais, Natsuki Kawamura, Denden, Hiroko Yashiki,

Website IMDB

American streaming services like Netflix have given a new lease of life to Japanese creatives who have access to greater financial muscle and creative freedom and a wider audience so that means the fetters of the traditional Japanese system are off for the visionaries and the sky is the limit. That Sion Sono, simultaneous enfant terrible and wunderkind of Japanese cinema, was tapped to make a movie for Netflix was exciting news especially after his heart attack this year. What he turns in is a long and ornate tale of murder that sometimes plays like a greatest-hits of his previous work but is delivered with such aplomb and dexterity as well as some special performances it remains entertaining.

Sono channels a rather horrific series of real-life murders into a film much like he did with Cold Fish but makes the most of the budget to craft a rather rambling and highly theatrical story split into chapters.

He kicks off this lurid tale with a news story of a serial killer stalking the suburbs of Tokyo before introducing us to a bunch of amateur filmmakers (a little like the heedless cinephile characters from Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) led by blonde-headed Jay (Young Dais of Twisted Justice). These guys exist in the scrub in the concrete forest of Tokyo and the shoots of their enthusiasm far outstrip the potential bloom of their talents but that enthusiasm is infectious and sweeps up a new member, the bespectacled Shin (Shinnosuke Mitsushima). He is a seemingly weedy guy from Toyokawa who is dazzled by big city Tokyo as well as the possibility of bagging babes, booze and banned substances.

The sex part might be the easiest thing to solve because Jay has a friend named Taeko (Kyoko Hinami), a punkish nymphomaniac with a scar over the tattooed word Romeo on her thigh, a terrible limp, blue-dyed hair and a bad attitude. One look at the nebbish Shin and she suggests her former high school friend Mitsuko (Eri Kamataki), the daughter of a rich family and a virtual hikikkomori with a severe case of arrested development. Her controlling parents keep her cossetted up in the hopes of marrying her off to a suitable man and so she surrounds herself with reminders of her years in an all-girl school where she took part in a sapphic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet directed by Taeko where she played the leading lady. 

Cue flashbacks to 1985 told with a blue filter and dance sequences where Sono’s trademark of slathering classical music over everything is in effect as an idealised lesbian fantasy takes place and these lilies find the first blossoming of love with Mitsuko, in particular, deeply affected by her idealised and idolised Romeo. Things turn sour when they become sexual and the girls are soon dancing with death a la Suicide Club and this reveals the roots of Mitsuko’s trauma and these roots burst forth from the past to the surface in her present with visions of her Romeo, complete with feathery light bloom, as the girl continue to invade her life.

The above summary is packed full of detail that could be a film in itself and yet The Forest of Love fits both sets of characters and the backstory in the opening twenty minutes thanks to Sono’s ability to go into high gear with a script and editing style that careens between scenes and sequences before the appearance of the thread that will link everyone together: Joe Murata (Kippei Shiina).

Forest of Love Joe Murata 2

Joe slithers his way into the narrative with the pretext of wanting to return a ¥50 coin he borrowed from Mitsuko years earlier. This tenuous lie, told with gusto and confidence, is the first of many for a man who claims to have graduated from Harvard summa cum laude and works on Wall Street and in Hollywood. However, Taeko knows him as a serial conman who has defrauded an army of women of the money. Then, Shin and Jay hit upon the notion that he might be the serial killer stalking Tokyo and that he would be a good subject for their film.

Sono teases he might be a charismatic serial killer from the moment we first see him in scenes shot at a grubby cafe with a sort of gothic set decoration that tinges the place with horror. This is just another one of the details thrown at the viewers and with so much going on it is easy to get lost in so many incidents so the audience can’t see the forest for the trees as Murata slowly takes over Mitsuko, and then Shin’s life by becoming a lover and a film producer respectively…

The film is a lot of fun as we see Murata’s madcap energy capture hearts and minds as he breaks all social conventions to make people feel special but he becomes a bit like a cult-like figure and his influencing others to do his dirty work becomes an increasingly act thing to witness.

The camera knows when to linger on actors and their expressions and their movements for the most powerful emotional effect as we see them fall under his sway, the joy on their faces of being treated so nicely and then we get a palpable sense of fear and disgust invading them over their increasingly violent actions as people start dying. Shin adapts best while Mitsuko finds herself buffeted around by various people’s emotions, especially those of Murata whose sadism knows no bounds.

Forest of Love Joe Murata

It’s brutal to watch humans being brow-beaten and being so despicable to each other and it becomes truly horrific later in the film as the deaths and dismemberments are shown on screen. Soichi Umezawa of Vampire Clay fame provides the hideously gruesome special effects and makeup for all manner of corpses in what is probably Sono’s most bloody and shocking film since Exte. It’s gloriously OTT and will send a shiver of disgust through audiences.

By this point, the bifurcated structure of the story has become whole but the narrative still continues to jump back and forth between scenes and, through flashbacks, along the timeline to create a towering macabre story where hidden motivations are exposed like in Strange Circus. There is so much that the film feels overburdened and teeters over a chasm of the audience’s incredulity, but it manages to retain its grip on viewers thanks to the rapid pace everything is delivered in.

The punchiness of the editing and movement of the camera helps prevent it being boring and deliver so much as Sono and his cinematographer Shohei Tanikawa (Sono’s collaborator on Himizu, Love Exposure, Noriko’s Dinner Table and Guilty of Romance) have a propulsive style that ensures the film never sags, flitting between locations and characters to as they pile pieces of the narrative’s jigsaw-like structure on to the screen and then assemble things together. The story being told from so many perspectives and angles lessens the tension a little too much at times so this feels like a rambling tale but provides plenty of reason to watch the film multiple times and the ending has enough that will catch audiences off-guard thanks to the acting that there is high impact.

As with all of Sono’s work lately, the acting is pitched at shrill and everyone is particularly intense with each other so it is to the credit of the actors that they match the demands of the script to sell the roles no matter how outrageous things get.

Kippei Shiina, with his shark-like grin and predatory eyes, beams bravado and braggadocio where he unleashes his charisma to become an emotional whirlwind that bowls over, and later batters characters so he can get his way. His confidence is total and exudes from his costume and his very being from the moment he steps out of his red sports car in a white suit with his beaming smile. Another standout performance is Shinnosuke Mitsushima, who camped it up in Hanagatami, is totally chilling as he becomes Murata’s disciple and undergoes further “changes” while newbie actress Eri Kamataki does well to essay neurosis and emotional rag-doll for others.

It is long and it does test the patience at times (even for this Sono fan) but, like Murata, it spins a tale so outrageous, one is entertained and swept away and the ending sequence is one to be admired.

16 thoughts on “The Forest of Love 愛なき森で叫べ Dir: Sion Sono (2019)

  1. Another astute review as ever. Like much of Sono’s works this has divided opinion because of its self-referential nature, but this may have been because Sono was aware not all Netflix customers may know him, so this was a way for him to introduce himself to a new audience and keep existing fans happy.

    Then again, as I said in my review, did Netflix actually know what they were letting themselves in for? Glad you enjoyed it anyway. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the recommendation!

      There’s a lot to admire here and it can be in no doubt he is an artist who specialises in the maladies of modern human behaviour. It mixes some of the best elements of his work and his cast pull off high pressure characterisation. Kippei Shiina puts in one of the most enjoyable performances of this year.

      I still have to watch Vampire Hotel…

  2. I read many books about real incident that happened. Television did not report the news because it was too violent at that time…

    Your review was very useful. I’m ready to watching from now on🤭🤭まだ観てないので楽しみです!ありがとう!

  3. 観ました!素晴らしかった。
    The person who became Murata’s model was said to be “天才的” or “カリスマ,” I was also being drawn into Shiina’s excellent performance. この魅力的で恐ろしい村田丈の姿は、事実を中途半端に知った多くの人間の手によって作られたイメージ、想像できないほど恐ろしい人物であって欲しいという願い…を監督が描いたんでしょうね。By crimes go underreported, many people believe that he has charisma.

    1. Thanks for your detailed reply!

      I agree with your assessment. Murata weaved a fantasy that was fun to be a part of. He let his mask slip in the forest but it comes with some excellent twists which reveal the belief and fantasies of others as well as some divine justice.

      I suppose you have to respect people willing to believe in something so strongly, even if you disagree with it, and Murata was able to believe in himself. It is pure desire on the screen and the tenor of the film is a good match.

      1. 確かにそうですよね…強く信じる人がいたから、彼も自分を信じることができたんですね。映画の中では、村田を取り巻く人物たちの欲望に、彼のほうが利用されていたとも受け取れます。

        If I haven’t read your review, I wouldn’t have recognize objective point of view. thank you!😶

      2. I like your ideas. The true bravery shown in the film comes from the characters around Murata who understand they are being manipulated and yet risk their lives. They seem like they are simply moths to the flame but they carry on because they are determined to do something to give their life meaning.

        Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  4. Sono Sion changed so many things, when you know the real crimes – actually, those crimes were even more brutal and shocking than those shown in the movie! The serial killer, the people who live, the people who survive, the “movie in the movie”… Everything is different. And… why not? From all this came out a rather good movie from my point of view. I’m not a huge fan of this director, thus it’s hard for me to be deeply in love with his latest film… It’s almost a “best of” Sono Sion… The “Sono Sion Universe”!

    1. Just reading about the crimes on Wikipedia was sickening. Sono and Shiina made them more palatable by increasing the theatricality. If this was played straight, the experience would have been too horrendous for audiences.

      I think this is his “Shoplifters”. He should try and move forward and he is because he’s working on a big international project.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Merry Christmas!

      1. I agree with you. He should move forward now.

        Merry Christmas, I hope you’ll have some days off to relax – and watch many movies.^^

  5. just watched it and I was quite disappointed, looked more like Sion saw in Netflix a tool to serve a bento of his art in the 7-eleven format. True his genius for editing is there and many scenes are filmed and handled with his usual expertise. However, having watched nearly everything he’s done since Love Exposure, I found it extremely and tediously repetitive. The awesome dedication of the actors, especially Kippei Shiina -who is a monument of dry, sick and black humor- prevented me from pulling the plug, literally.

    1. I must admit that I haven’t thought about this film much since watching it. I can see how, for all but the most dedicated fans, the constant high tenor, the endless histrionics and the length make it feel “tedious” and “repetitive”. My tastes are changing and I am hoping that he goes for a reinvention rather than a retread for future films.

      Kippei Shiina is marvellous, though. His charisma was the magnet for me to keep watching.

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