While it is a rather entertaining treatise on the extremes of power abuse, and contains the usual violent, sexual and immoral provocations that have characterised Sion Sono’s output, it ultimately doesn’t cut deep enough to be a rewarding experience.
Dir. Sion Sono
2019 | Japanese | Crime/Drama/Horror | 151 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
R21 (Netflix rating) for strong violence, gore, sexuality and disturbing themes
Cast: Kippei Shina, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Kyoko Hinami, Eri Kamataki
Plot: A con man and a would-be filmmaking crew force themselves into the lives of two grief-scarred young women. But nothing is as it seems.
Subject Matter: Highly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
I read about a critic saying that The Forest of Love is Sion Sono 101 for the uninitiated Netflix generation. To a large degree, that is very true.
For those who might stumble onto this film, they will be in for a brutal rite-of-passage; for Sono-philes, this is more of the same from the highly controversial filmmaker.
There is a longer version positioned as a series, but this feature film version, already running 150 minutes long, should whet your appetite for violence, gore, sadomasochism and torture.
Sono serves these provocations with a strong slab of immorality as he tackles mostly the idea of authoritarianism and power abuse when taken to their extremes.
In this case, we tail several young amateur filmmakers who are interested in a shy girl with a haunted past. A mysterious older man comes into the picture, seducing her and bringing everyone on a rollicking (filmed) misadventure that is revolting, and in some way, perversely entertaining.
All of this is set in a Japanese town with a serial killer on the loose. We see everyone having fun abusing each other physically, sexually and psychologically. The performances border on the absurd, yet require so much from the game cast.
Unlike, say, Love Exposure (2008), still one of Sono’s finest achievements, The Forest of Love, unfortunately, doesn’t cut deep enough to be as rewarding an experience. Perhaps one reason is that the film isn’t tight and many scenes run longer than necessary without adding much to the narrative or themes.
But Sono probably doesn’t give a hoot about what anyone thinks, and his indulgences and wham-bam approach to storytelling, if you will, are central to who he is as a filmmaker.