Potential viewers need to be aware that in order to watch Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005), you need to have a healthy tolerance for the more ridiculous aspects of cinema. This film was brought into being by three directors (Katsuhito Ishii, Hajimine Ishimine, and Shunichiro Miki), and is extremely random, without any definitive central story. What it lacks in clearly defined narrative, it makes up for in hilarious dialogue, amazing dance routines, and queasily disturbing body horror sequences.
The film is fairly difficult to describe, but I’ll try my best. It consists of a number of sketches or stories, and characters which cross over them. For example, we have the Unpopular With Women Brothers, who star in a sketch called ‘Guitar Brother’ which is featured throughout the film. We also have the sketch titled ‘HOME ROOM!!!!!!!!!’, a personal favourite of mine, in which one of the Unpopular With Women Brothers is the class teacher. Then, later at the school, we have an absurd music class where the children play strange music instruments, mildly reminiscent of the computer game in Existenz (1999), which have to be inserted in places that no musical instruments should go.
I’m going to stop describing the different sketches and elements of the film, because I’m afraid that in doing so, I’ll spoil the genuine surprise that you feel when watching the film. There are many more that are just as amazing as the ones mentioned above. The film begins with two ‘hosts’ who guide us on our mystical journey. The first half is fairly tame, but then after the intermission – which was genuinely needed as the film is two and a half hours long – things get really weird. The cuts between the sketches are quick, almost giving you no time to process what you’ve just seen. This is why an intermission was greatly appreciated – just to have the time to turn to other people in the room, and say, “What just happened?”
My favourite thing about this film was its blatant love for music and dance. It seems like every set of characters gets their own song and dance routine, some of which are silly, and some of which are genuinely beautiful. There was one long sequence of music toward the end that built into a crescendo of mashed up electronica and ambient noise music, which was actually mesmerising both in terms of the audio and its accompanying visuals. There is also one particularly enthralling dream sequence with some great dancing that starts off awkward but ends in romance.
My favourite Japanese actor, Tadanobu Asano, is pretty great in this film as one of the Unpopular With Women Brothers, and also a badminton coach who uses a strange device to train his student. I’ve reviewed a couple of films in which Tadanobu Asano is a main character, and I am always impressed by him. Apparently he’s the Japanese Johnny Depp, a title which I absolutely do not disagree with. There is also a surprise appearance by Hideaki Anno, the visionary genius behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, and he’s not a bad actor at all.
It’s also worth noting that Katsuhito Ishii also directed The Taste of Tea (2004) immediately before this one. I would say that this film is like an extreme step forward in terms of its surreal elements. Take the surreal sensibilities of The Taste of Tea, and multiply them by one million, and then shake them around in a jar made out of human skin so there is no order to them and you feel weird for finding them interesting. That is the kind of film this is. Funky Forest: The First Contact has a lot less charm than The Taste of Tea, but why bother with charm when you have a fuzzy yellow alien begging a schoolgirl to tug on his tail so that he can change faces?
Despite the fact that Funky Forest: The First Contact has no real order in which the stories should follow, it flows quite well and it seems that each story is in its correct place. I can’t stress enough how strange this film is. However, a warning to those who love films with a definitive linear narrative – if you can’t tolerate ambiguity or things that have no real purpose or direction, you will struggle with this film. It’s two and a half hours long of this stuff, over and over again. At the same time, this is the reason why I loved this film. It’s not for everyone. The film vomits images at you and you are a captive to its whims.
Some clever nugget has uploaded the whole thing on Youtube with English subtitles, so watch it while you can! I loved it because it was so weird. Funky Forest: The First Contact is a completely unique film and I don’t think you’ll see anything like it anywhere else. For that, it deserves top marks.
Watch the trailer here. There’s no English subtitles, unfortunately, but it gives you a good idea of what you’re in for.