Dark Blue Forest (2021) review [JFFH 2022]

Introduction

Yasuyuki Nakahira’s Dark Blue Forest is the result of the encounter between visual art and narrative improvisation. Such kind of experimental approaches, while risky, often work out because they offer something refreshing. Yet, can Yasuyuki satisfy audiences with his visual and narrative experiment inspired by the corona pandemic and other infectious diseases?

Review

August 2023. A mountain village near Higashi-Hamakita City is plagued by a viral outbreak – infected starts hallucinating themselves after death – i.e. their own corpse, go mad, and perish. Many have died already and clusters are spreading in the area surrounding the Prefectural Route 23. There are attempts to put Higashi-Hamakita City into quarantine and trace the movements of Mito Kikuchi (Miku), who is seemingly involved in the disappearance of Yuzu Nakano (-), the presumed source of the outbreak.  

Dark Blue Forest (2022) by Yasuyuki Nakahira

Dark Blue Forest is pleasant experience that engages the spectator from start to finish. Yasuyuki succeeds in keeping the spectator’s attention is not simply by infusing his narrative with a sense of mystery, but by playing with the spectator, by offering him answers and confronting him with new riddles.

The initial mystery – a mystery that structures Dark Blue Forest as a whole – can be delineated via six questions. What caused Yuzu Nakano’s sudden appearance? What is the link between this mysterious girl and Mito Kikuchi? Why does Yuzu Nakano look exactly like Kikuchi’s deceased daughter Satsuki?  And why did her appearance lead to a viral outbreak? Is there a link with the recent discovery of Jomon Period remains, the ‘kirin’, and the infectious disease? Has Yuzu been murdered by superstitious villagers?

Answers to some of these questions are suggested quite early in Yasuyuki’s narrative. Why? Simply said, to give the spectator a minimal structure to orient himself within this mystery- and character-rich narrative. With his narrative structure – a fragmented and rather cryptic structure relying on slivers of speech and elegant visuals to guide and bemuse the spectator, Yasuyuki proves that he fully understands that it is only by granting the spectator certain narrative anchor points that he can successfully keep him/her engaged (Structure-note 1).

Dark Blue Forest (2022) by Yasuyuki Nakahira

Yet, Nakahira does not really succeed in giving his engaging experience an ending that truly pleases. Not that the ending is bad – far from it, but it lacks a certain effect for the spectator (Narra-note 1). Either finishing the narrative with a finale that offers a more tangible conclusion or one that effectively baffles him would have allowed Dark Blue Forest to impress the spectator more deeply. Yet, even without such ending, Yasuyuki’s narrative is a narrative worth experiencing.  

The composition of Dark Blue Forest stands out due to its fluid dynamism and its quite mesmerizing visuals. The many visually pleasant moments within the composition proves that Nakahira has a talent to compose compelling shots. Yet, it is not simply the visual tension he exploits that ensures the compelling visual nature of the moments, but the fact that many of these elegant visuals are expertly used to confuse and engage the spectator with puzzle-pieces of fragmentary meaning, pieces only receiving their full sense as the narrative unfolds. In other cases, Nakahira utilizes such visual moments to heighten the dramatic flavour of his narrative. 

Dark Blue Forest (2022) by Yasuyuki Nakahira

The sense of mystery that marks Dark Blue Forest as a whole is, for the greater part, function of the rich musical accompaniment and its effect on the diegetic sounds (e.g. the sounds of the forest) (Sound-design 1). As a matter of fact, the musical decorations allow the feeling of mystery seep out of the visuals, reverberate in the signifiers that push the narrative forward, and poison the slow-moving rhythm of Nakahira’s composition.

Dark Blue Forest is a great experimental thriller-mystery narrative about borders and the destructive nature of prejudice (Theme-note 1). Yasuyuki Nakahira proves that he has a skill in crafting pleasant visuals and combining them into a composition that engages the spectator by elegantly playing with him. The finale lacks a bit of punch or direction, yet that does not stop Yasuyuki’s narrative from being worth checking out.  

Notes

Theme-note 1: Knowing that the film deals with borders and the transgression of these borders is not only relevant to understand the very violence that structures the film, but also the link with the corona-pandemic and the evoked dynamic of prejudice.  

Structure-note 1: The time codes and position coordinates that help structuring the narrative are also instrumental in allowing the spectator to make sense of the narrative and orient himself within the evocative imagery.  

Narra-note 1: The ending of the narrative has a very important function within the structure of two simultaneous unfolding stories. The ending links both narratives together by evocatively revealing a certain truth about Mito, a truth concerning death and rebirth.  

Sound-design 1: The only thing that might be detracting to some spectators is the sound of speech. It is pretty obvious, due to the spatial reverberations that mark all acts of speaking, that conversations were recorded separately – in a room.

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