Japanese films have a certain quality to them. They often have a larger than life feeling that sets them apart from traditional western films. This is certainly the case with Netflix’s The Forest Of Love, which is directed by Sion Sono. Loosely based on real life, The Forest of Love follows a violent man called Joe Murata, who spends his time getting off on every vice that comes his way. Twisted, gory and excessive, The Forest of Love is the kind of movie that luxuriates in its own seediness.
Teenage girls, suicide pacts and Romeo and Juliet
Having never seen any of Sono’s work I had no idea what to expect when watching the movie. But it’s clear from the beginning that he wants to tell an indulgent story.
Murata (Kippei Shinna) can only be described as a virus that destroys everything he touches. He wouldn’t look out of place in a Ryu Murakami novel. A serial killer and conman, Murata inserts himself into the lives of two young girls called Taeko and Mitsuko. The relationship between all three is deeply warped and placed against the backdrop of suicide pacts and an inverted version of Romeo and Juliet.
Meanwhile, a group of young men plan to shoot a film around Murata. But it isn’t long before they get sucked into his vortex of violence. Becoming increasingly power-hungry, Murata takes over as director of the film. In this way, Murata is a dark extension of Sono himself. It’s a commentary on how filmmakers can be so immersed in their art that they lose touch with reality and take on monstrous qualities.
At certain times, The Forest of Love feels nonsensical, with Sono swinging from scene to scene without any rhyme or reason of where the story should go. But he does a good job of tapping into the idea of morbid curiosity. Like Murata’s victims, the viewer can’t help but be entranced by his antics. Shinna deserves praise for his bat shit crazy performance.
But at over two-and-a-half hours long, Sono never quite justifies why the film needs to go on for that amount of time. So, The Forest of Love’s watchability comes down to the gravitas of its actors and how much excess viewers can stomach.