The Mourning Forest Naomi Kawase

The Mourning Forest Naomi Kawase

We’re so inundated by the nasty, brutish and weird elements of Japanese cinema that it’s easy to forget its quieter elements. For every virtuoso freak like Takashi Miike, there is someone like Naomi Kawase, no less a virtuoso but more gentle and contemplative. Her latest effort, The Mourning Forest, won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes fest, and it’s such a distinctive film you might just nod in agreement once you see it.

Set in an old-folks home located somewhere in the middle of a forest, the film is told largely from the point of view of a somewhat reticent employee who one day takes a patient into the bush only to get lost and wander around. However, her charge seems to know where he’s going and the surprise when he gets there is not what you think.

That outline sounds very twink-y and indeed, there are some more bashful elements to the film that slightly grate but they’re overshadowed by Kawase’s genuinely original aesthetics, which are as impressively precise as they are hard to define. This isn’t a ruthlessly formalist movie in the traditional sense; it gives the impression of giving up control as much as exerting it.

The director doesn’t indicate the important elements in the scene, she alludes to them; we’re aware of a presence all around us without knowing what it is. The audience has to make its own choices as to what to take back from the trip into the forest and what the purpose for going might be. Beautiful, mysterious and movingly humane, it’s unlike any movie you’ll see this year, in or out of Japan. (Celluloid Dreams)