Sion Sono’s The Forest of Love has an absurd, self-indulgent run-time, with exhausting and selfish characters that undermine an immense directorial achievement.
It’s extremely difficult to explain the general premise of Sion Sono’s Netflix film The Forest of Love. The first act is absurdly dissimilar to the final third. With a 150-minute run-time, the one common theme is that the story is manically frantic with crazed characters who become selfish to their own story. The director has opted for pure madness, and in some ways, it works wonderfully, but its craft and run-time ironically prevent it from being the film it is meant to be — wholly fascinating.
The story follows a con-man and an ambitious filmmaking crew that latch on to the lives of two grief-stricken young women. Nothing is apparent, which is not an exaggeration — the story evolves from an absurd obsession with Romeo & Juliet clung onto by lesbian lovers. From here, Netflix Film The Forest of Love ignites unpredictable paths that are often bold but are consistently matched by missteps.
I wouldn’t argue that The Forest of Love is confusing, as there is a purpose to the overarching story, but it does lean into self-indulgence in the wrong moments. While it explains that true events inspire the story, Sion Sono allows every character to have an edge, which initially is absorbing, but by the third act is exhausting. There is such a thing as “too much”, and by the end, I failed to view any character as a person of interest. The Netflix film beats it out of the audience, ensuring they cannot reach the surface for breath.
The Forest of Love enjoys magnifying the extremes, subjecting itself to some squeamish gory scenes and maximizing each character’s emotion, but the main issue is the run time. For a film that prides itself on trying to be different, the main flaw is that it tries over-delivering the story to the audience. Two hours and 30 minutes is wildly unnecessary for the scope of the narrative, making the last hour a chore rather than an experience. Viewers will find themselves clock watching around the 1 hour and 40-minute mark wondering when the madness unfolding will end, and by the time you reach the ending, which I presume was built to be impactful, you feel absolutely nothing.
The Japanese film does toy with your emotions; as a critic, I can sense the directorial achievement — a lot of thought and energy was thrown into the direction of the story. It’s clear Sion Sono had a vision in mind — I genuinely feel he will have this belief that he has achieved it. But for general audiences, I cannot see this feature landing. Netflix film The Forest of Love feels more like an excessive experiment than a story.