Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!


-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL


Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT




       One of cinema’s most appealing qualities is -- assuming the story is really exposited visually -- that it can be appreciated by all, no matter what country or culture they hail from. It’s the truly universal art-form: free of the restrictions imposed by language, age or education-level. That being said, every culture has its own unique stories and story-telling tropes -- comprehensible to natives of said society, but sometimes cryptic-seeming to outsiders. It’s easy enough to understand how someone from the plateaus of Tibet, or the icy vistas of Siberia could appreciate an iconic American action film like Stagecoach or a slapstick comedy like The Gold Rush -- but what would they make of Eraserhead? Or Being John Malkovich? Or, heck, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for that matter? Once you move beyond the most basic, iconic genres and story-lines, the transparency of the cinematic form begins to obscure -- and of course, this cuts both ways. Films from foreign lands almost always seem a bit different, possessing a kind of “other-ness”, to us Americans. This is all the more true of cultures outside of the Western, European tradition -- even more so when the film in question is at the periphery of that alien society’s mainstream. And that lengthy preamble goes a long way towards categorizing -- if not actually explaining -- a film like Funky Forest: The First Contact.


       I think it’s easier to unpack what this film is, by making clear what it is not -- It is not a “three-act playlet with a dramatic resolution” -- it’s more like a series of inter-connected short films that all revolve the same central characters: three young women who all share the same flat, and their prospective beaus, three young men known as “The Guitar Bros.” -- this is their title, despite the fact that two are Japanese and the third clearly a gaijin. In addition, all these characters interact with a host of bizarre alien creatures who claim to be from the Planet Piko-riko; although it’s a little unclear if these events are “actually” taking place, -- or just part of some sort of collective day-dream. It’s also not a musical -- although the film has a dozen or more musical “numbers”; but to call it a “musical”, the “numbers” would have to advance the plot in some way or another -- and since Funky Forest doesn’t have anything that could conventionally be called a “storyline”, pigeon-holing it in that way just doesn’t quite hold up. It’s more like a playful set of humorous sketches, complete with music video interludes and a really bizarre sci-fi sub-plot. None of these descriptions quite do the film justice; the more I think about it, the more I have to just regard it as one of the flat-out weirdest cinematic experiences I’ve ever had -- but not an unentertaining one, I might add.


       Funky Forest is the collective effort of three Japanese directors, the best known of whom, Katsuhito Ishii, also directed the sublime The Taste of Tea -- a far more conventional film (overall...); but a film similarly concerned with the quiet moments that occur between the high points of “drama” -- introspective moments, that when put together, are as valid a way of telling a story as any, I think. The overall tone of Funky Forest is light and silly; but the zaniness frequently occurs between characters and creatures that are as bizarre and unsettling as anything you’ll see in David Cronenbergs’ adaptation of Naked Lunch. Most likely the movies episodes will make you smile, at least some -- but you might feel a little queasy as well. Funky Forest apparently has quite the “cult status” in its native Japan, causing some to refer to it as the Nipponese “Rocky Horror” -- but the camp pleasures of Rocky Horror seem tame in comparison. A film like Forbidden Zone or the more recent The American Astronaut makes for a more apt comparison.


       Funky Forest: The First Contact gets a region 1 DVD release Tuesday, March 18th. This edition isn’t dubbed -- but includes sub-titles and a “making-of” featurette -- which will go a ways towards making it “understandable”; but still, I suspect, far from comprehensible.


Next post -- 04/04/08