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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Forest of Love is a 2019 Japanese crime/horror movie in which a charismatic pop singer and con artist lures a group of aspiring filmmakers into committing violence and murder. There are English subtitles. There's considerable gore, including scenes of recently-killed characters getting hacked up with a machete, and their entrails removed and boiled down before they are disposed. Attempted suicides, including a girl attempting to slit her wrists. Death by hanging, by gun, by machete. Characters shown having sex; some nudity (breasts). Woman masturbates in her bedroom. Characters engage in self-harm -- cutting and burning. Binge drinking. Cigarette smoking. Frequent profanity, including "f--k" used throughout.
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What's the story?
In THE FOREST OF LOVE, a group of aspiring filmmakers befriend Shin (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), a young musician and overall weirdo who has just moved to Japan. When it's discovered that Shin is still a virgin, they take him to meet Taeko (Kyoko Hinami), who is known for sleeping around in the aftermath of her failed suicide attempt. Taeko refuses, but takes them to an old friend of hers from the all-girls high school they attended -- a now-reclusive young woman named Mitsuko, who still mourns the death of her first love "Romeo." Upon seeing her still living in the past, Taeko is angered and implores Mitsuko to pick up the pieces and move on. Meanwhile, the news reports of a serial killer on the rampage. After they leave MItsuko's house, Mitsuko gets a mysterious phone call from a man named Joe Murata (Kippei Shina), who tells her that he owes her the 50 yen he borrowed from her many years ago, and would like to pay her back. She decides to meet up with him, and the two soon begin a torrid affair. Murata claims to be, among other things, a Harvard- and MIT-trained genius working undercover for the CIA, but is actually a pop star. He immediately seduces and manipulates everyone in Mitsuko's life, and as the aspiring filmmakers start to film Murata and Mitsuko on the sly, Taeko warns them to stay away from him. Taeko tells them of the past affair she had with Murata, which only serves to increase their obsessions with Murata. Soon Murata meets the filmmakers and insists on making a movie with them. The movie, about a serial killer, soon spins out of control, as Murata uses his charisma and powers of manipulation into a kind of Manson-esque sex and death cult, leading to Mitsuko to turn against her family, and the filmmakers to turn on each other as they engage in acts like binge drinking, making Mitsuko's parents dress like punk rockers, and succumbing to Murata's assorted acts of sadism.
Is it any good?
Thisis a bizarre pitch-black tragicomedy that's fully immersed in excess in all forms. The Forest of Love is way over the top and self indulgent, and while it's probably at least 30 minutes too long, the sheer insanity of it all keeps it entertaining enough to keep one's attention. Director Sion Sono clearly took the carte blanche Netflix gave him and took it as far it could go, and despite whatever similarities The Forest of Love shares in story and theme with the '90s dark comedy Man Bites Dog, and in style with, among others, the films of Seijun Suzuki, the result is a movie that stands on its own stylistically, with plenty of images that won't soon be forgotten.
The movie definitely pushes the audience's credulity and "suspension of disbelief," and the ultimate enjoyment of The Forest of Love is connected to how willing the viewer is to go along with this Technicolor death trip. As the psychotic grand manipulator, con artist, pop singer, and all-round psychopath, Kippei Shina doesn't really come off as a convincing Manson-esque murder cult leader, but because the world Sono has created seems to think so, you accept the premise as much as you accept everything else that is bonkers and off the rails about this movie. But one can't help but wonder if the movie would be a little less all over the place had at least some of the excess been cut.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "over the top" movies with graphic violence and sex. How does The Forest of Love use exaggeration, particularly in violence and sex but in other aspects as well, to highlight the overall story and themes?
How does the movie address topics such as teen suicide, mass murder, peer pressure, abusive parents?
This movie is loosely based on a true story. What would be the challenges in basing a movie on a true story while still trying to make a movie as original as possible?
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