Mogari no Mori (2007)

11 05 2008

Another extremely frustrating effort from Naomi Kawase. Perhaps even more so than Moe no Suzaku though in her defense, it is largely due to this film’s giant ambitious which are never quite equally executed. In some ways, this is actually a step-up from Shara. Where that film is more of a straightforward drama captured in a naturalistic fashion, this is more of an attempt at being a poem. It does achieve a very Malick / Herzog vibe but the content drags after awhile and begins to stray back to something more dramatic. Kawase’s attempt at trying new things is admired, though, as this film has more than enough inspired sequences to prove its own worth. At the same time, it is not the transcendent masterpiece that it could have been.

To get her mind off the recent death of her son, Machiko begins working at a retirement home. She is scared at first, but quickly eases her way into the atmosphere. She also begins an unlikely friendship with Shigeki, who lost his wife thirty-tree years ago. Their friendship is understandably slowed down by Shigeki’s mental instability. On a trip outside the retirement home, Machiko’s car gets caught in a ditch. She goes to look for help but when she returns, Shigeki has disappeared. She quickly finds him deep in the forest. The two continue to hike through this forest looking for the grave of Shigeki’s wife.

For about the first 25 minutes, Kawase creates a distinct atmosphere bursting with spontaneity and poetry. The sequence in which Shigeki and Machiko play hide and seek represents the final particularly fantastic section of film, sans the finale. A beautifully composed, almost montage, of heartbreaking sequences that feel completely free of any dramatic conventions. In some ways, this further reinforces just how small the gap between Harmony Korine and Naomi Kawase is. Perhaps it is a little bit of a stretch to call this the Japanese Gummo but the film’s first section seems to imply that it is working towards just that.

Everything following the opening is downhill, though not overwhelmingly so. Once Shigeki and Machiko get “stuck” in the forest, there are some nice sequences but nothing really equating to the breathtaking moments from earlier on. The sequences in the forest range from cheap scares (a falling branch) to completely tedious nothings (walking in a forest with no focus on nature?) to the bizarre (Machiko taking her clothes off to warm Shigeki) but again, nothing as special as what we’ve seen in the first few minutes. In compensation, the film’s final sequence does live up to the completely amazing opening, but there’s still too many instances when the film feels as though it is dragging. Even in Shara, Kawase could have benefited from some editing. If you’re going to film people walking for thirty minutes, you better something great to fall back on. Instead, a majority of the film is borderline-nauseating camera work of two people walking. Still, there’s something very special going on here.

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