The Sea of Trees (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
October 19, 2016 by Dennis Amith
Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” may not be one of his deepest or finest films in his oeuvre but the film does a great job of showcasing a man trying to survive and navigate through the forest, but also needing to do that with his life which is now in disarray. And hopefully finding some meaning to his life. I enjoyed the film no matter how implausible it may be and it’s a good diversion that may want audiences to think of how precious life truly is.
TITLE: The Sea of Trees
FILM RELEASE: 2014
DURATION: 110 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, (2:40:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
COMPANY: Lions Gate
RATED: PG-13 (Mature Thematic Material, Some Disturbing Images and Brief Strong Language)
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2016
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Chris Sparling
Produced by F. Gary Gray, Kevin halloran, Ken Kao, Gil Netter, Chris Sparling
Co-Producer: Tammy Goldman, Pietro Scalia, Satch Watanabe
Associate Producer: Thomas Patrick Smith
Music by Mason Bates
Cinematography by Kasper Tuxen
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Casting by Sande Alessi, Francine Maisler
Production Design by Alex DiGerlando
Art Direction by Erik Polczwartek
Set Decoration by Jeanette Scott
Costume Design by Danny Glicker
Matthew McConaughey as Arthur Brennan
Naomi Watts as Joan Brennan
Ken Watanabe as Takumi Nakamura
A powerful story of love and redemption starring Matthew McConaughey as an American professor who travels to Japan for a spiritual and life-changing journey.
From award-winning filmmaker Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”, “Milk”, “Finding Forrester”, “Elephant”) comes his 2015 drama “The Sea of Trees”.
Featuring a screenplay by Chris Sparling (“Buried”, “The Atticus Institute”, “ATM”), the film stars Matthew McConaughey (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Dallas Buyers Club”, “Interstellar”), Naomi Watts (“King Kong”, “Mulholland Drive”, “The Ring”) and Ken Watanabe (“Inception”, “The Last Samurai”, “Batman Begins”, “Letters from Iwo Jima”).
The film begins with an introduction to Arthur Brennan (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) and his wife Joan (portrayed by Naomi Watts).
Their marriage is rocky as Arthur has chosen a job that makes him happy but yet doesn’t pay well, while Joan is the breadwinner, disappointed that Arthur is not taking a job that would pay more. And because she is left having to work in order to take care of both of them, she has become an alcoholic.
The film then shifts to Arthur taking a flight to Japan to go to Aokigahara Forest (know as “Suicide Forest” or “Jukai” which translates to “Sea of Trees”), a dense forest area near Mt. Fuji, to kill himself.
While preparing to kill himself, he sees a distressed man named Takumi Nakamura (portrayed by Ken Watanabe) who is also trying to kill himself.
As Arthur tries to help him find a trail, as Takumi has decided that he did not want to kill himself and wants to return back to his family, the two get lost in the forest and together, must survive while reflecting on their own personal lives and why both have decided to end their lives.
The story then shows us the story of Arthur and Joan as couple who’s marriage seems over but circumstances bring them closer together until something terrible happens.
But what happened between Arthur and Joan, that would lead Arthur of wanting to kill himself?
“The Sea of trees” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). With the film shot outdoors, the film looks very good in HD as closeups show great detail, skin tones look natural, while black levels are nice and deep. Outdoor scenes look lush, as it was shot in Foxborough, Massachusetts (not in Japan). I didn’t notice any banding issues, crush or artifacts during my viewing of the film. Picture quality is fantastic!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Sea of Trees” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and features crystal clear dialogue and musical score. Surround channels feature outdoor ambiance.
Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
“The Sea of Trees” comes with the following special features:
- The Sea of Trees: A Story of Beauty and Tragedy – (8:17) The making of “Sea of Trees” and the director Gus Van Sant, producers, Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts thoughts of making the film.
“The Sea of Trees” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.
In 2015, I took a trip to the Mt. Fuji area and one of the things that caught my interest was Aokigahara.
While I traveled in March when it was overcast, still snowing and no doubt, felt creepy if I had to walk the forest alone, the location is known for being dense and shutting out all noise but the natural sounds of the forest.
I’ve read enough books and watched moves about the ghosts in the area but also the number of deaths in the area. As more suicide attempts were taking place and people were hanging themselves or dying of a drug overdose, local officials are doing what they can to decrease the number of suicide attempts in the area.
And because of the recognition the forest has received for being a “suicide forest”, for many, they find the forest to be a convenient area to die.
Which leads us to the Gus Van Sant film, written by Chris Sparling about an American man named Arthur, a professor who goes to Japan to kill himself in the forest.
His plan of killing himself is thwarted when he discovers a Japanese man named Takumi who also wanted to kill himself and is in distress and wanting to get back to his family. Arthur tries to find a trail for the man but instead, they both get lost and now the two are trying to find a way to get home.
Unfortunately, the area is known for its frigid temperatures, its mountainous cliff areas and not exactly safe for these two men who are looking to find a way out.
But while the two men try to find a way out of the forest and get help, their time together of trying to survive, leads them on a path of self-discovery.
The film is split into two stories, the primary story surrounds Arthur and Takumi trying to survive in the forest, while the other story shows us flashbacks of what led Arthur to decide on wanting to kill himself.
We learn that Arthur and Joan have a troubled marriage. For one, Arthur’s decision to take a low paying professor job that only pays $20,000 has made Joan becoming the primary breadwinner, always busy as a realtor and she has become bitter that it has led her to become an alcoholic. But there is more than meets to eye about this dysfunctional relationship.
For one, Arthur cheated on Joan and she has resentment towards him, even though she gives him chances to redeem himself, she feels that all he cares about is himself. He feels that Joan is trying to make him take a job that would make him unhappy. He is happy where he’s at and thus, it leads the two to have marital problems.
But throughout the film, we see how Arthur and Joan are able to grow closer after something bad happens. But what happens within this relationship between Arthur and Joan, that would lead him to wanting to kill himself?
The film is no doubt a life-changing journey for Arthur as he starts to discover many things about his relationship and himself.
I think that there are people who have problems with the film because certain aspects are implausible and for Gus Van Sant, for setting such a high bar of quality for his films, people expect nothing less than magnificent, deep and full of substance.
While the film does have a supernatural situation that is implausible, I was not disturbed by it as I have grown up reading stories of Japanese mythology to ghost stories and situations that have taken place in the mountain. I found the ending to be a nice touch to the questions that Arthur never knew about his wife. But how the forest was able to make him deal with loss, even though the forest is known for death.
The film’s premise may not make “The Sea of Trees” a commercial, box office hit but for those who ponder on the aspect of death, suicide and ghost stories, especially if knowledgeable about Japanese ghost stories, makes “The Sea of Trees” a film about loss and learning how one can take granted of the time spent with a love one until its too late.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic, lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and music composed by Mason Bates. And you get a single special feature on the making of the film.
Overall, Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” may not be one of his deepest or finest films in his oeuvre but the film does a great job of showcasing a man trying to survive and navigate through the forest, but also needing to do that with his life which is now in disarray. And hopefully finding some meaning to his life. I enjoyed the film no matter how implausible it may be and it’s a good diversion that may want audiences to think of how precious life truly is.
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