The Sea of Trees refers to Aokigahara, a renowned place that's located at the base of Mount Fuji. But Aokigahara is renowned for a rather macabre claim to fame as it's come to be one of the most popular places to commit suicide in the world. What drew me to the movie 'The Sea of Trees' was that I had heard about Aokigahara before, not that I'd contemplated suicide, but I came across it when I was researching suicide in Japan for my review of Suicide Club. So I was aware of its morbid mystique and thought it could provide an interesting backdrop to a movie that's all about life and death.
When a career academic Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) decides to take a trip around the world to kill himself at Aokigahara, he runs into a man called Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe) who's desperately trying to find his way out of the 'suicide forest'. Arthur points him in the right direction, but it seems that no matter which way they go, they cannot escape. While they wander the forest aimlessly, they talk about their life and reflect on what went wrong with it and how it brought them to Aokigahara. Arthur's biggest regret is his wife Joan Brennan (Naomi Watts) and how their relationship ended. So in the forest of Aokigahara, one man has rediscovered his will to live, while another man has lost it.
The location and recreation of Aokigahara was superb, and its continually changing atmosphere made it feel like a 'living place' to some extent. Like it had a mind of its own. The Sea of Trees wasn't shot at the real Aokigahara, and I've never been there either so I can't say how accurate it was, but I got the feeling that a lot of attention was paid to getting all the details right. All the security, all the strings and all the warning and reminder signs were there just like I read about. It 'felt' like Aokigahara to me. A place that was spiritual, mystical and full of ghostly souls.
The acting from Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts was great, although McConaughey was given more to do. Ken Watanabe was surprisingly quiet and didn't do or say much of any relevance, it was Godzilla all over again for him, sadly. I was stunned at how quickly a man decided to halt his life-ending journey to help a wandering Japanese man. Is that how strong his resolve is? That all it takes to sway him from his path towards suicide is a wandering stranger? I've never seen a man who wanted to die so much, miss so many opportunities to do so.
Arthur and Joan are a couple that had been married and together before that for what I felt like was a long, long time beforehand. They shared a lot of history with one another, though due to both of them betraying and disappointing the other at varying times, their marriage had deteriorated into this mess of passive aggressive hostility that they were constantly taking aim at each other. The tragedy of it all is that both of them were more than ready to say they were sorry, but they were either too stubborn, or were filled with so much hate and resentment towards the other that they could never bring themselves to say the words 'I'm sorry' and let all the hate flow from their lives.
Not that it's necessarily that easy to do, but they simply couldn't let go of all the lingering rancor that had consumed their once blissful relationship. Life is too short to fill it with hate and resentment. I think this applies to a lot of people and relationships of all kinds. That we tend to get so caught up in negativity and acrimony that we forget to treasure what we have in front of us and move on with our lives. Don't dwell on the bad, bask in the good. And yes, I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true nonetheless.
While I do admire the story it was trying to tell, it was told in such a predictable, plodding and cloying saccharine way that I found it hard to really be inspired by it, as I should have been with a story like this. I didn't think we needed the 'moment of realization' bit at the end either, I could see the pieces coming together from a mile away and I think most other people could too. The five minute exposition dump was unnecessary as well. I was hoping to see some good 'back and forths' ala 'The Sunset Limited' with two powerhouse actors in full swing, with ideas and beliefs exchanged between the two lost men regarding themes like life, death, god, reincarnation, self-determination vs pre-determination, etc, but there was none of that in the movie, and if it was, it was purely superficial. What I felt like we were left with is a glorified Lifetime movie that's full of platitudes. I know that all movies really riff off each other in some way, so I'm a big believer in the notion that 'It's not the destination, but the journey that matters' when it comes to movies, but the journey in The Sea of Trees is simply a boring, obvious and far too sentimental one for my tastes.
Written by - The Sentry - 18/09/2016