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Funky Forest / Warped Forest (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000217463
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 29/3/2022 14:51
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    Review for Funky Forest / Warped Forest

    6 / 10


    I have this notion that creativity is inspired by constraint, that the more regimented and stratified a society is, the more that artists push against those bounds and challenge conventions, the more bizarre and strange those creative excesses get. In that respect, Japanese society is strangely restrictive when it comes to free democracies. It isn’t just in terms of laws, but the self-imposed dictates of a largely homogenous society where how people live is expected to conform. It’s less about the individual, and making sure that the nail that sticks out is always hammered down. Given that, there has been some seriously weird entertainment to come out of Japan, shows and movies that made the careers of people like Clive James and Jonathan Ross.

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    I have enjoyed plenty of such entertainment from Japan, with even some more mainstream films using mind-bending elements to jar audience sensibilities. Third Window Films have released several films like this, but for me the go to anthology of weirdness has long been Survive Style 5+, a film which is still unfortunately absent from Blu-ray. So when Third Window Films started teasing their release of Funky Forest/Warped Forest on Blu-ray with some wholly provocative trailers and clips, I perhaps got more excited about it than I should.

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    Funky Forest (150 mins), a.k.a. Funky Forest: The First Contact was made in 2004, directed by Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, and Shunichiro Miki. The sequel Warped Forest (81:08 mins) was directed in 2011 by Shunichiro Miki alone. It’s worth noting that Warped Forest only ever got festival distribution, and this Region Free Blu-ray release from Third Window Films is the first public distribution for the sequel. I haven’t seen the release version, and can’t comment on the packaging or any physical extras, but note that the TWF release is limited to 2000 copies, while the US release from Error 4444 in conjunction with Third Window is sold out at the time of writing.

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    Introduction: Funky Forest

    Odd things happen in and around the school. Masaichi, Masaru and Masao are three brothers who have trouble getting girls, despite Masaichi’s demonic rituals, and Masaru’s prowess with the guitar. They’re resorting to a singles picnic event. Masaichi teaches a bizarre class at school with an eclectic body of students, while Masaru supervises a weird afterschool sports club. Takefumi teaches English, and is in a non-relationship with his former student Notti, and both of them have had strange dreams. The school’s music teacher is highly strung, and obsessed with the state of his shoes, but the instruments the students play deserve special care. And a dog directs anime.

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    The Disc: Funky Forest

    Funky Forest gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese and with English subtitles. The film is certainly watchable enough, clear, stable and free of print damage or signs of age. Having said all that, it’s clear that this isn’t a 4k restoration of the original negative, with all the pin sharp bells and whistles that usually come with those buzzwords. It’s a little soft during playback, and colours are a little subdued, looking as if it has been sourced from a well used film print. Detail levels are good though, and the colours and overall quality is consistent throughout. The audio fares better though, making nice use of the surround soundstage, keeping the dialogue clear and centrally focused, and making the most of the eclectic music soundtrack. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, but the dialogue translations take precedence over screen text translations, and some text captions are left un-translated as a result.

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    Extras: Funky Forest

    The disc boots to an animated menu and you’ll find the following extras.

    The commentary from directors Katsuhito Ishii, Hajimi “Aniki” Ishimine, and Shunichiro Miki comes with English subtitles and is a light-hearted retrospective created for this release. Don’t expect too many serious insights.

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    The Making of Funky Forest is extensive at 68:50.

    There are 21:13 of Director’s Cut Scenes.

    Katsuichi’s Dance Secret Treasure last 7:11.

    The Transfer Student Is Here – Short Animation lasts 5:01.

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    Conclusion: Funky Forest

    I went and made myself a victim of unhealthy expectations. Funky Forest didn’t hit the heights that I was hoping that it would, and that’s wholly my fault. As mentioned earlier, I was hoping for another Survive Style 5+, and Funky Forest is most definitely not a Survive Style 5+. That film had its five bizarre narratives most certainly, but they came together to deliver an ultra-bizarre ending that surpassed the rest of the film; a most satisfying climax. Funky Forest isn’t like that. It’s a succession of absurdity, a series of surreal sketches which build their respective character arcs to be sure, but there is no overall direction to the film, no transcendental climax, and you’re not supposed to expect any kind of build to satisfaction, it’s more of a loosely linked two-and-half hour experience. When it comes to references, I got the same sense watching Funky Forest as I did watching Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.

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    I think I would have appreciated Funky Forest if it were half the length, or indeed two movies. To its credit, it does present itself as Side A and Side B, with an intermission, but I have to say that it wore me down. There’s only so much absurdity and weirdness that I can take without significant meaning before it loses its power. A “WTF?” at this kind of movie is good, but a “Why did I just watch this?” isn’t. The thing is that like every sketch show, you’ll find elements to appreciate, and skits that will fall flat, and for me, Funky Forest kicked off in the worst way possible, with a stylised talent show contest, featuring a Manzai pair spouting off unfunny punchlines at each other and beating each other when the jokes didn’t work. They continue popping up through the film, dialling down the humour. It’s worth noting that the directors aren’t complimentary about this sketch in the commentary, although given that one of them plays one of the Manzai pair, it could be typical self-deprecation.

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    There is a direction of travel to the film, an increasing weirdness as it progresses. The earlier scenes really just introduce the significant characters, set up their situations, and start to develop them through absurdity. The opening sequences are bizarre enough, with the all white talent show bookended by some weird alternate reality CGI, followed by a schoolgirl’s sci-fi flight of fancy as she tries to avoid her homework. But the three brothers Masaru, Masao and Masaichi just seem eccentric at first, with Masaichi’s demon dance ritual, and Masaru’s epic guitar playing at his Caucasian kid brother. On the other hand, Takefumi and Notti’s relationship is most certainly odd, but not outside the bounds of reality. These are more odd interactions than anything too fantastic, and when things do get surreal, it’s Takefumi relating a dream he had to Notti, which allows for some serious anime dance action.

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    It’s as if a switch is flicked at the intermission, and once a mini sushi-chef gets pulled out of a rectum in a TV screen, we are seriously in Cronenberg territory. There is some creepy and scatological body horror-comedy in this half that really ups the weirdness. There is also a new set of sketches set in a classroom full of variegated students (including Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame), that goes off on all tangents. I have to say that I appreciated the doubling-down of weirdness in the second half of the film a lot more.

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    I did go into the film with overly high expectations that certainly didn’t help, but the sketch format is as ‘hit and miss’ as you might expect. I also feel that the film does outstay its welcome with the extended runtime. It’s very rare to find a film comedy that sustains past two hours, and this isn’t one of them. Still, I do want to give the film a second chance, now that I know what to expect, and I can’t fault this release for extra features, as you get the director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and a near feature length making of documentary as well.


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    Introduction: The Warped Forest

    People are disappearing without explanation. Three men are at a hot springs resort discuss this, with one relating the tale of three students that suddenly vanished, to reappear days later in the middle of a forest. It seems completely unbelievable, a prank; and then the inn manager shows up with three guests, and is shocked to see the three men in the room, telling them that they have been missing for the last two days.

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    This isn’t the only warped forest. In another place, things are decidedly weirder, with people living and working alongside comparative Lilliputians. Poco is the local currency, seeds and nuts that emerge from people’s navels. A strange fruit that grows on humanoid trees is much prized, a girl stalks the forest with a penis gun, there is an ominous inverted pyramid floating in the sky, and when life doesn’t go the way people hope, they resort to dream tinkering, with hopes of attaining the space-time warp.

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    The Disc: The Warped Forest

    The Warped Forest gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on the disc, and your sole audio option is DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese with optional English subtitles. It’s a much better transfer than that for Funky Forest. I doubt it’s down to the age of the film; rather it’s an indication that the film hasn’t been screened since those few festival showings. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent, and detail levels are excellent. The effects are accomplished well and certainly provoke a reaction. The audio is presented without issue. The dialogue is clear, and the quirky music and the moments of action find a bit of space in the stereo sound design. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.

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    Extras: The Warped Forest

    The disc boots to an animated menu. The film kicks off with a 39 second introduction by the director Shunichiro Miki. You’ll find the following extras on the disc.

    Director Shunichiro Miki Commentary

    Trailer (1:10)

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    Making of The Warped Forest (11:56)

    Director Shunichiro Miki Interview (23:19)

    Storyboards (2:40)

    The Wonderful Dwellers of Funky Forest (22:55)

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    Conclusion: The Warped Forest

    Shunichiro Miki was responsible for the weirder, more Cronenberg moments in Funky Forest, which explains why that particular extra is on this disc for the sequel. If that weird bioorganic orchestra, the rectal TV, the bizarre after-school club piqued your interest, then the sequel, The Warped Forest is definitely for you. There are some seriously weird body modifications and freaky organisms to grab your attention. Shunichiro Miki financed this film wholly by himself, using his own savings. That explains why this film didn’t get the kind of distribution that the studio funded Funky Forest got. If you’re watching this Blu-ray, you’re one of a select few.

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    I went into The Warped Forest after jettisoning those expectations that knocked my viewing of Funky Forest, and I did actually enjoy this film more. It wasn’t because of those expectations though, as the film is similarly scattershot and random with its sense of humour, and bizarre diversions into the surreal. What held my attention this time around is that The Warped Forest is comparatively structured, works better as a whole. It’s also easier to maintain my interest in a film that feels like glorified sketch comedy, when the runtime is less than 90 minutes.

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    The film is bookended by monochrome segments in the ‘real world’ which shows three groups of three people coming up against strange ominous occurrences, when people go missing, and reappear with no memory of the intervening time. The colour segments are set in this bizarre other world, where the same actors play characters with similar dynamics, three sisters, three young friends, and three older friends.

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    Miki creates in this other world a reality parallel to our own, but one where the rules and priorities are different. The world is populated with all manner of weird creatures, and strange plants, and all of it suffused with a curious eroticism. All these characters go through whatever it takes to find love, to keep roofs over their heads, to earn a living. It’s basically the daily grind that we all go through, but because the rules of this world are so different, the way the world works is so visually arresting, and as mentioned so erotically charged, that the film attains a satirical edge that compels you to look at your own life.

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    Having said all of that, while I appreciated The Warped Forest more, it still wasn’t a film that hit all the right notes with me. It is an example of the sketch comedy format, and you have to get on board with the characters, and more importantly the sense of humour to get the best out of the film, and while I found it occasionally humorous, and often quite silly, never once was I moved to laugh.


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    In Summary

    The films that Third Window Films brings us are always interesting, and always worth watching, but that’s never a guarantee that you’ll like them. I didn’t have the easiest time with Funky Forest; the runtime and the format of the comedy had me looking at the clock even before the intermission. But I did watch it with unfair expectations, while with The Warped Forest, it may have just caught me on the wrong day. Even if I didn’t click with the humour, I did appreciate what the film had to say. The discs come with copious and worthwhile extras, and I very much want to give these films another chance in the future.

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