The Sea of Trees is the latest from Gus Van Sant, a filmmaker with a very eclectic track record that proves he’s not afraid to put himself out there and experiment.
Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey is front-and-center in The Sea of Trees as Arthur Brennan, a washed-up science teacher who has traveled to Japan with no luggage and a one-track mind. All he wants is to leave the airport and go straight to the Aokigahara forest, also known as the sea of trees. This isn’t any ordinary forest and is actually called “the suicide forest” by the locals. It’s a popular place to enter and end it all on your own terms and the allure of this place is written all over Arthur’s face in the first act of the film.
Upon entering the titular woodland, we see more of Arthur’s motivation behind his fateful decision and are introduced to fellow traveler Takumi (played by Ken Watanabe) who is also ready for the graveyard. The two men bond and get to know each other in the way that might make a few eyes roll. It turns out Arthur was far from happy back home, caring for a dying wife (Naomi Watts) and dealing with more stress by the day. In his eyes the only way out was the easy way out. Arthur’s backstory with his wife Joan is shown in flashback and helps to fill in the gaps of why suicide is the only answer for our solemn protagonist.
Time after time, “Sea of Trees” lingers in blatant, unearned sentimentality and after a while, the plot for “Sea of Trees” runs in circles, not unlike its lost duo.