The Forest of Love is Japanese psychological horror and crime drama from the brilliantly eminent director Sion Sono. The renown Japanese filmmaker is exceptional at depicting the drama of stranger facets to life, conveying dark poetry from said drama, whether that’s the life of the cults or more niche vocations such as professional pornographers in voyeurism. This film, however, follows a psychopath, who is based on a real life serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga, as he seduces, manipulates, terrorizes and coerces various impressionable people into his absolute control – a scenario reminiscent to the Manson family in the West –  as Futoshi will do anything to test his power over them while enjoying this indulgence to every extremity. In effect, he becomes a cult leader and implements a variety of mental and physical tortures to enforce and maintain this power as a deviant sadist.

As in Visitor Q, with a stranger infiltrating a dysfunctional family to exploit this disorder for his own egotism, the cult leader does so indiscriminately to anyone he pleases for every kind of carnal need as a fraud of a man (lust, money and power). He has no moral boundaries and inhibitions to restrict his efforts to beguile or charm – this is most aptly demonstrated when he does a concert with hundreds of women humorously attended who he’s courted at one time or another, each oblivious to the other. The overall narrative is incredible in portraying how such charisma, with a Machiavellian disposition, exerts influence to succeed: a net of victims in a web of deceit.

The villain is an intriguing textbook example of a clinically accurate psychopath and the destruction in their wake as he leads all around him into nefarious outcomes- manipulated people committing deeds contrary their normal morals for ruinous ends. This reveals a lack of persona for the him – all is merely a means for him to subjugate other people, and any semblance of normalcy is a mere mask to achieve his agenda. Consequently, as his followers’ empathy is substituted for obedience to him, characters are compelled into radical actions superseding their former identities as brainwashed tools. Ultimately, Futoshi and his crew will kill and maim for more satisfaction, exceeding any limits through a ruthless arrogance whereby all revolves around satisfaction to his whims as the sole authority in their lives.

The film is a slow burn, but it serves to add more intrigue for the frail characters we witness becoming corrupted and how their lives enabled such actions. Few films have the adequate length, or even character development, to properly address cult-like indoctrination for insubordination, making Forest of Love a notable entry for those interested in exploring the process of radicalization..

Futoshi is a darkly fascinating and amusing individual for all his schemes – sometimes ludicrous, albeit bold, in ambition to unveil an immense hubris – via a façade of charm. It is amazing to see how bold and elaborate his plots and tactics can be (i.e. 100 women he’s seduced attending a concert of his, a laughable display of his sexual prowess).

I highly recommend this for anybody in the mood for a slow, dark drama on the vanity of people at their worst, a great showcase with the fallibility of humans. Furthermore, the show has real life inspiration that’s a nice footnote to complement further research, giving the film an extra layer of entertainment for the true crime enthusiast.

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