The Forest of Love is Japanese psychological horror blended into a crime drama, crafted from the brilliantly eminent director who is Sion Sono, a critical darling; renown for poetical ruminations as he explores the darker facets of human life – some strange, others morbid. The renown filmmaker is exceptional at depicting the drama of life as we have experiences sure to change us, reflecting on these as dark poetry derived from agonizing circumstances, whether that’s in the bizarre life of the cults or in unthinkable vocations such as professional pornographers. This film, however, follows a psychopath intimately, who is actually based on a real life serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga, as he seduces, manipulates, terrorizes and coerces otherwise ordinary people into his chaotic control – a scenario reminiscent to the enduring legacy of the Manson family. Futoshi will do anything to test his power over them while enjoying this ability to every extremity – he exists as an immaculately crafted case study of the technical definition behind ‘psychopath’. In effect, as his unconventional ruthlessness compels a peculiar admiration, he becomes a cult leader from the strength of his overbearing will, instilling a charisma rarely understood, and oversees a variety of mental, physical tortures to assert his sadistic nature.

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); the film is setup in a way to brazenly display the full consequences of such a dangerous force in a manner that’s disturbing in equal measure to the intriguing appeal. My fixation on him might seem strange, but I think the whole film is a showcase of his extensive power – how he ultimately forces all in relation to his will.  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 as a parade of his cunning. The overall narrative is incredible in portraying how such charisma, with a Machiavellian disposition, exerts influence to succeed: a net of victims, as we see stack throughout the narrative, in a confounding web of deceit.

The villain is brilliantly performed to carry the whole film, which is strangely appropriate to follow his charisma as other characters do, and the destruction in his wake, as he leads all around him into nefarious collusion, showcases the ripples of such a negative person- manipulated people committing deeds contrary their normal morals for ruinous ends. His carnage enabled reveals a lack of any real aim of his beyond being a catalyst – 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’ humanity is substituted for obedience to him, which reflect his hollow nature, characters are compelled into radical actions superseding their former identities as brainwashed tools – an extension of his inhumane, carnal disposition. Ultimately, Futoshi and his crew will kill and maim for satisfaction in an odd fixation from a psychology hard to ever fathom, exceeding any relatable conventions through a ruthless arrogance whereby all revolves around satisfaction to his degenerate whims as the sole authority in their lives.

The film is a slow burn, as we see the reasons and circumstances for such a man to have any influence, but it serves to add more intrigue for the frail characters we witness becoming corrupted and how their lives supported such madness. 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 fascinating and amusing individual for all his schemes on the schism of dark comedy  – sometimes ludicrous, albeit bold, in his ambition of an inexplicable hubris – all through a façade of charm to somehow make dissonance at tolerating the lunacy. It is amazing to see how bold and elaborate his  tactics can be (i.e. 100 women he’s seduced attending a concert of his, a laughable display of his sexual prowess), but the shock is the vanity as an undercurrent to film, and the flippant disregard for any humanizing morals – it’s inherently a mystery – the why he does all of this – that also compels people into the nastiest recesses of true crime.

I highly recommend this for anybody in the mood for a slow, dark drama on the vulnerability of people – Forest of Love a great showcase with the fallibility of humans to insidious forces we have problems comprehending in context of warmer conditions. Additionally, the show has real life inspiration serving interesting footnotes to complement further research, enhancing the film with an extra layer of entertainment for any true crime enthusiast.

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