Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: 'The Warped Forest' Could Be A Little More Warped

Six years after his collaboration with directors Katsuhito Ishii and Hajime Ishimine, Writer-director Shunichiro Miki put together this semi-sequel to 2005's "The Funky Forest" with the solo effort, "The Warped Forest." But instead of the out and out surreality of the low-key alien encounter fantasy "The Funky Forest," Miki goes for domestic comic situations that are just a little bit bizarre and often bittersweet.

In the film's black and white opening, a trio of salarymen (including rubber-faced comic actor Yôji Tanaka), sitting around a table at a hot spring, settling in for drinking and looking forward to the possibility of a dip in the water when the resort's proprietor barges into their room with a panicked shriek: apparently, the three men disappeared without a trace days ago, so it's kind of a surprise to see them sitting around chatting like nothing happened.

When "The Warped Forest" switches to color, it changes settings to an unnamed village populated by our three salarymen in new roles now--one as the sexually frustrated owner of a bakery who gets his kicks visiting a pretty lady who hooks some kind of... thing up to his chest; all's fair though, since his wife is carrying on a relationship with his sole employee behind his back. Another the married proprietor of and inn deeply in love with the graceful, scarred vendor who sells oddly-puckered fruit that she picks from a forest of naked women. And the third is the manager of a weapons shop, obsessed with finding a way to hack his own dreams. Other locals include a regular-sized woman who works the counter at a tiny convenience store in debt to an itty bitty, lovestruck extortionist and a girl wandering the forest with a rifle with a penis at the end of its barrel, stalking the elusive Pinkie Pankie.

This unifying thread is the idea of dreams and the cost of living in dream worlds or allowing oneself to become consumed with fantasy (by the end, it's not completely clear whether the "real" world is in black and white or color), but it's all handled in such an easygoing, mellow way. In fact, viewers looking for a "Funky Forest" redux will be disappointed, since this film--funded independently on Miki's earnings as a commercial director in Japan--doesn't have the big, audacious moments of "Funky Forest."

Still, the movie works because it's more solidly coherent and character-based: each person we meet is deeply dissatisfied about something, and their tender dramas are revealed next to the quirks of the world in which they live (the underlying message here may be something like "don't ignore the everyday wonders around you"). It's this gentle approach that might make "The Warped Forest" feel a little less daring than its predecessor, but nonetheless more successful at tugging at the heartstrings.

The Warped Forest screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2012. You can find out more about the festival on its homepage.