Japanese films have always been able to blend brilliance with oddball flair, art, commerce, screwball comedy and uninhibited anarchic craziness. Never before has one movie made me say “What the Heck?” more times in one viewing. FUNKY FOREST: FIRST CONTACT (2005, Naiso No Mori: First Contact) is one film that will bewilder and dazzle you, with its very bizarre execution and ‘extremist’ filmmaking. The film is a collaboration between three renowned Japanese filmmakers; Katsuhito Ishii (Party 7), Hajime Ishimine (Frog River) and Shunichiro Miki (Evangelion 1.0) and if you’re familiar with Ishii’s films, you know that they’re usually for the esoteric audience very adulterated to this style.
Three very unpopular brothers, Katsuichi, Masaru, Masao are struggling to meet some pretty ladies. Luckily enough, they get a chance to have a ‘singles’ picnic with a trio of pretty young girls! With 21 free-associative episodes from sci-fi nonsense to a dance-battle daydream, the film will challenge your mind and logic with its crew of very outrageous characters as they find themselves warped into dimensions way past our imagination--you’ll have to see it to believe it!
This film may well be the MOST original production that I may have ever come across. It blends screwball comedy, science fiction and experimentalism in a hyper-accelerative imagination to attain new cinematic heights. This flick is like a series of illustrations and sketches gone insanely wild; CGI fantasies and daydreams, musical numbers, very weird dancing, hilarious high school high-jinks, what you will get is a mental constitution dipped in the bizarre, the bizarre blended with the weird.
Truth be told, the film has no plot, well, not in a linear fashion anyway. The film is just a surreal experience that takes some elements from “Sharkskin Man and Peach hip hop Girl“, “Party 7” and “A Taste of Tea” to blend in sheer anarchic proceedings. The film has a somewhat fragmented style, the film’s narration is just as odd as its characters. The film is split into Side A and Side B (not to worry, you don’t have to flip the disc) with a 3 minute intermission during the mid-halfway point to give your brain a chance to relax.
The less you know about this film, the better. It’s appreciation would have to come from its ‘shock’ value. But I will try to illustrate some elements that you’re in for.
The Unpopular with Women Boys- The guitar brother (Tadanobu Asano) learns to play the instrument to impress women, while his brother Tanaka does the Kabuki dance with the same motivation. They have a younger brother who is Caucasian and loves to eat candy bars.
The Hot Spring Vixen Babes- Three pretty Japanese women (Chizuru Ikewaki plays one of them) who tell elaborate and wild stories including the alien Piko-Riko, Buck Naked and the Panda, and the tree and the neighbors; these sketches really made me crack up!
Notti and Takefumi- Tsakoumis (Ryo Kase) is an English teacher, who loves to sound mix and aspires to become a DJ. Notti is a dreamy student who likes to hang out with Takefumi but the two hasn’t become lovers and they are “dating” without “dating”.
Combined with the Mole Brothers, the Bloodsuckers, the Homeroom kids and their teacher and “Pero the dog director“, and you have one heck of a mind-fuck. The film is impressive, it offers quite a number of impressive stories within a story; there definitely is a plot in “Funky Forest”. It will ‘free’ and ‘melt’ your mind and definitely immerse you in a wacky and bizarre experience that you won’t have time to worry just what the story is all about. There are quite a number of familiar faces from “A Taste of Tea” and “Josee”. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and one of the “Swing Girls” even makes an appearance.
One small fault the film may have is that at 150 minutes, it may feel too long. I think it would benefited if the film was more compressed and shorter in length. The non-linear style may also alienate some viewers but I do think it is part of its charm. I am still cracking up at the stories of the “Hot Spring Vixen Babes” while I’m writing this review. The film has a lot of characters so careful attention will be required. The film has a lot of suggestive themes when it regards to some of its aspects so it does have the “explicit content” marked on its dvd cover.
“FUNKY FOREST: First Contact” is NOT a film for everyone. It positively defies one’s abilities to analyze and categorize, leaving nothing else to do but describe. The film is definitely flaky, bizarre, a hoot at times, but definitely has high marks for its originality and direction. It still has a lot of “funky” warmth and charm beneath its archaic segments and the characters just have to be seen to be believed. There are so many ideas and visuals in the film that it was amazing just how Ishii and company managed to pull it off. “Funky Forest” pushes the boundaries of filmmaking, it is comforting but encourages confrontation, it is refreshing as it is bizarre; the film is a visual maelstrom of creative images and ideas that doesn’t make any sense--but in a weird way it does make sense? Am I making sense here?!
Free Your Mind.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Out of 5 Stars]
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