On watching “The Forest”

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I needed to decompress a bit when I got home from school today so my husband suggested we watch a movie. Since “The Forest,” a horror movie set in the Aokigahara Forest (or Suicide Forest) in Japan is now on pay-per-view, we decided to watch that and it was an awesome film. It did, however, raise a few questions for me (not the least of which being what the majority of Japanese think of the film) and since many of them are connected with how we treat our dead, I wanted to explore them here. For those who worry about such things, please note there will be spoilers for the film.

To briefly recap, (SPOILERS STARTING NOW) a woman goes to Japan to find her twin sister who has gone missing in the Aokigahara forest. She is determined to go search for her sister because she can sense that her twin isn’t dead. Everyone she meets (teachers, school children, a forest guide, a random teen ager, and a woman who tended recovered bodies until they were claimed) warns her not to go off the trail, that the ghosts there are angry and because she is in a heightened and ungrounded emotional state will mess with her, possibly driving her to suicide and then she’ll be trapped in the forest which…is exactly what happens. (Her sister survives). Part of me thought this is the story of a well meaning white girl who disregards and in some ways shows inadvertent disrespect for indigenous sacred space, customs, and religions and then pays the necessary price for her obliviousness. I think there are more things to be considered though and while that was certainly part of the characterization there are other complexities to parse out.

Whenever I watch something like this, as a polytheist and moreover as a spiritworker I can’t help but consider how I would approach the situation myself were I in the character’s shoes, or what I would suggest for a client (this is why I’m extremely picky about what horror movies I watch – they tend to annoy me). I have a tendency to use things like this as teachable moments. So, tonight, when the movie ended, I turned to my husband and said, “I would have done that so differently. This poor woman went into that forest—a sacred, liminal, and terrifying place—completely unprepared and with no allies in the spirit world. There are so many things she could have done differently and I’m going to elaborate on them here.

Firstly, my understanding is that the forest is located on Mt. Fuji, a powerful Kami, or holy power in his own right. It’s a very sacred place and has been for generations, many generations. The moment I reached the base of the mountain, before doing anything else, I would have made offerings to that Kami, petitioning Him for safe passage, protection, and help. (Before doing even that, I would have made a lot of offerings and asked my own ancestors for protection and aid. I would have wanted them at my back, guarding my back when I reached the forest.).

I would have taken seriously the warnings of locals, particularly those who worked in the forest. I wouldn’t have scoffed at their traditions. I would have asked the proper way to show respect in such a sacred place and to any spirits who might be present. Then, before setting out on my search, I would have petitioned my Gods and I’d have made copious offerings to the dead of the place. There is a protocol when dealing with the dead, particularly dead not one’s own, and when dealing with sacred places. None of this would have been a guarantee of safe passage and success, but I think it would have positioned one in a place of greater potential for those things.

Also, in the movie, the more upset and emotionally unstable the main character became, the more the spirits in the forest messed with her. This is actually a thing. The rune spirits are like that a bit so that at least was something I was used to dealing with. I learned early on that to work effectively with the runes, it was necessary to be incredibly centered and almost detached (certainly detached from the results of any divination one might do). If there was uncontrolled or especially unacknowledged emotion present, the runes will take that as carte blanche to mess with the rune worker. It’s just part of the contract in dealing with them. I’d treat the situation encountered in the movie the same way on general principle.

I was very much moved by the idea of the suicide forest in general. I knew about it before, of course, but hadn’t ever given it much thought. Watching the movie, even though it was a horror movie, I couldn’t help but think how very respectful to have a beautiful place, at the foot of the home of a God (Mt. Fuji) where people can go when they decide to die. In so many ways, I wish that we had more reverence for death and dying and thus for living too. Anyway, that’s where this movie took me. There’s a documentary about the real Aokigahara Forest that folks can watch here.

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Posted on April 14, 2016, in Ancestors, Lived Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this. I hadn’t seen the film, but this is a good write up.

    In some ways I’m curious how many who travel to Aokigahara go just to die and how many go for transformation. I’m reminded of the stories in which some part of the protagonist must die that the rest might live.

    Clearly some go to embrace death, but I get the impression that more go to seek healing, the excision of some psychic cancer and not all survive the procedure. Many others, of course, go because it is holy ground and beautiful.

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  2. In other horror-movie-related discussion, have you seen The Witch?

    I was struck by how the filmmakers got inside the mindset of the early Puritan colonists. In a similar vein to your point about The Forest, it drove home how BADLY the colonists screwed up by dragging Europe’s miasma with them. When I analyzed the film’s plot from an esoteric (instead of horror fiction) perspective, I think the filmmakers unwittingly stumbled on an important point about what’s gone wrong in Massachusetts.

    It’s not a great film, by any means, but in this one area (The Sick) I found it illuminating.

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  3. In movie terms is The Forest any good? I usually pass on films with such a low rating. I do like Natalie Dormer though.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      I enjoyed it, but mostly because it made me think a lot. Objectively I don’t think it was a great movie.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It does raise interesting questions. I’ve actually had similar experiences with suicide dead and also murdered Indigenous while camping in a park. I did not know at the time, but the park has a rich and violent history from mass slaughter of Aboriginals and also at one point a slum for colonial settlers. (My tent was set up near a tree a settler woman who called herself Mary hung herself)
        I was also in a bad mind state and they really drew upon it.
        After being terrifyingly informed by these ghosts I sort to make them feel more comfortable with my presence there and performed a number of rituals and libations. It was an enlightening experience in the end and I had no more troubles.

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  4. All my experiences with the dead have been suicide or murder too. I never believed in ghosts until I experienced my first in my partners parents’ home (I was around 20). I knew of vague stories but not the extent of the history of their house. One night I stayed over and had all these nightmares of a woman in a pink night gown and experienced all the stereotypically scenarios in a bad horror movie like unexplained cold, someone physically touching me and terror. The woman kept telling me to get out. I ended up getting up and sleeping in another room.
    The next morning I told my father-in-law about it and nonchalantly he said, yeah – that was the previous owner, she hung herself in the room you were sleeping in.
    Thereon I believed in ghosts.

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