The Sea of Trees
|The Sea of Trees|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gus Van Sant|
|Written by||Chris Sparling|
|Music by||Mason Bates|
|Edited by||Pietro Scalia|
The Sea of Trees is a 2015 American drama mystery film directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Chris Sparling. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris.
The film is about an American man who attempts suicide in Mount Fuji's "Suicide Forest" where he meets a Japanese man who is there for the same reason. Principal photography began on July 28, 2014, in Foxborough, Massachusetts; the production moved to Japan in September of the same year. It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
An American man, Arthur Brennan, (Matthew McConaughey) travels to the "Suicide Forest" (Aokigahara forest) to kill himself at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, the site of numerous suicides. There he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura, (Ken Watanabe) who wants to kill himself as well, and both men begin a journey of self-reflection and survival.
It is revealed through flashbacks that Arthur wants to end his life by drug overdose after his wife, Joan, (Naomi Watts) died. As he is about to take a third pill he hears Takumi struggling. Takumi had slit his wrists for being dishonored at work but misses his wife and child and decides he doesn't want to die. He tried to escape the dense sea of trees but cannot find the trail back. Arthur decides to help him but also ends up disoriented in the forest. They survive falls, flash floods and hypothermia as they try to escape the forest and along the way find others who succeeded in ending their lives. They share their stories together and it's revealed that Arthur is there because of his guilt of how he and his wife treated each other in their marriage.
After she becomes sick they rekindle their love and reminisce about a favorite place of hers where she would spend hours amongst the orchids. He says he will take her back there when she's ready to. The doctor tells them she will survive and she is transported by ambulance to a recovery hospital. He follows behind her in his car, talking to her on the phone and jokes with her about not knowing what her favorite color or season is. Before she responds a truck plows into the ambulance killing her. At her funeral he tells the director he didn't really know her even after all the years they were married. He says he overheard her sisters talking and one of them sent her a copy of her favorite book. This is the package Arthur brings with him into the forest.
After a night of talking Arthur separates from Takumi in the morning to try to get help. He found a walkie-talkie from a deceased camper and Takumi is too unwell. He promises him that he'll come back. The park rangers catch Arthur's calls and he dramatically makes his way to help but is too weak to let them know that there is another person in the forest.
Almost two weeks later Arthur is being evaluated by a psychiatrist before his release and he says he will go back to the forest to find Takumi even though the rangers could not. They found the tent he spoke of but did not find anyone there. The psychiatrist also reveals that there is no one by the name of Takumi Nakamura who has a wife and daughter by those names. There is a camera at the entrance of the forest and Arthur was seen going in and coming out but no one else was seen going in.
Arthur returns to the forest and makes his own trail with string and later crumpled paper to mark his way back. He finds the package he left in the forest and also the tent and the coat he covered over Takumi but there is no Takumi. He takes away the coat and under it is a beautiful orchid. He remembers what Takumi said about the forest. He believed it is a form of purgatory and that the spirit of your loved ones go there and are closest during your darkest moments. He opens the package holding her favorite book and it is a copy of Hansel and Gretel. Arthur realizes it was Joan's spirit that helped him find his way out and is helping him heal his guilt to go on without her.
Arthur returns to America and brings the orchid with him. While helping a student it's revealed that the names of Takumi's wife and daughter are not names but words that mean yellow and winter. He remembers the last conversation he had with his wife about her favorite color and season.
The last scene is Arthur planting the orchid in the garden of Joan's favorite place.
- Matthew McConaughey as Arthur Brennan
- Ken Watanabe as Takumi Nakamura
- Naomi Watts as Joan Brennan
- Katie Aselton as Gabriella Laforte
- Jordan Gavaris as Eric
The project was first announced in December 2013. Matthew McConaughey joined the cast in February 2014 with Naomi Watts joining in May of that year  The film's international distribution was sold to different companies at 2014 Cannes Film Festival, which includes Entertainment One to handle the rights for UK, Australia and New Zealand, and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions to handle for Eastern Europe, Pan-Latin America and Scandinavia. On August 15, Katie Aselton joined the cast to play a woman who has an affair with McConaughey's character.
On May 15, 2014, McConaughey and director Van Sant talked about the upcoming film which was officially slated to start on July 15, Van Sant said, "My latest feelings is to try to shoot in Japan, if it's too difficult, we would probably go to the northwest in the States, where the land is very similar." The film's budget was set at $25 million with McConaughey receiving a $3.5 million salary.
The principal photography of the film began on July 28, 2014, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The crews were filming deep in the woods in the Purgatory Chasm, Sutton, Massachusetts, where they were also using the recreation hall and chapel at Cocasset River Recreation Area, which they scheduled to rent again on August 14. Publicist Gregg Brilliant said, "The film makers looked at about half a dozen places around the country. The story takes place in Japan and the Northeast United States, and we chose Massachusetts. It's a beautiful location." 
Shooting began in Massachusetts through September, after which filming moved to Japan. The filming wrapped-up on September 30, 2014, in Massachusetts and Japan, with post-production beginning in Los Angeles.
The film had its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2015. Prior to, Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate acquired U.S distribution rights to the film. A24 later acquired distribution rights, after Roadside and Lionsgate dropped the film for unknown reasons. The film was released in a limited release and through video on demand on August 26, 2016.
The Sea of Trees was panned by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 13%, based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 3.6/10. The consensus states, "Dull, maudlin, and fundamentally empty, The Sea of Trees extinguishes the contributions of a talented cast and marks a depressing low point in director Gus Van Sant's career." At its May 2015 debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the film was met with harsh critical reception; it was loudly booed and laughed at by an audience of critics, with critic Scott Foundas calling it a film "for nobody." Some critics were more impressed by the film; Pete Hammond wrote "Their film deserves a better fate" and he praised its "pared sentimentality." While Hammond was also impressed with the "beautiful lush score", others found it "cloying" and "ever-present."
Critic Richard Mowe stated this audience reaction should "give the film’s creative team pause for reflection about exactly where they went so badly awry." Justin Chang, chief film critic for Variety, deemed the film "dramatically stillborn, commercially unpromising", though Chang did single out the film's aesthetic as noteworthy, stating "Cinematographer Kasper Tuxen works wonders with the forest’s softly diffused light by day, and makes exquisite use of a campfire to illuminate McConaughey’s and Watanabe’s faces at night." He also described co-star Naomi Watts as "solidly moving and sometimes awesomely passive-aggressive." Nonetheless, he concludes that the film is, "Almost impressive in the way it shifts from dreary two-hander to so-so survival thriller to terminal-illness weepie to M. Night Shyamalan/Nicholas Sparks-level spiritual hokum, this risibly long-winded drama is perhaps above all a profound cultural insult, milking the lush green scenery of Japan’s famous Aokigahara forest for all it’s worth, while giving co-lead Ken Watanabe little to do other than moan in agony, mutter cryptically, and generally try to act as though McConaughey’s every word isn’t boring him (pardon the expression) to death."
Further critical dissatisfaction with the film has been attributed to the fact that "the twists and turns of this narrative fail to ring true with too many implausibilities in the plotting to give any credibility" and with its "complete lack of narrative momentum, it all adds up to a film that's easily Van Sant's worst, and is a sad black mark on McConaughey's mostly excellent recent run. Ultimately, "Sea of Trees" feels like an entirely appropriate title: it makes you feel like you're drowning, and it's full of sap."
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