Hollywood Insensitivity And "The Forest"

Hollywood Insensitivity And "The Forest"

What's wrong about this new horror movie supposedly based on true events.
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In theaters on January 8, the new horror movie “The Forest” is advertising away on social media—and the plot, trailer, and everything about it leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Before I begin, let me introduce this film including my knowledge and what I gathered from watching the trailer and reading summaries on Wikipedia and IMDb. “The Forest” takes place in the Aokigahara forest, a real forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The Aokigahara forest is nicknamed as the Sea of Trees for its luscious greenery and has been designated as one of Japan’s natural monuments. At the same time, this forest is also known as the Suicide Forest where thousands go to take their own lives, and it is the second most common place worldwide for suicide, the most common place being the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The popularity of the Aokigahara forest as a place to take one’s own life is said to be associated with Japanese novels and mangas that feature this spot, and also with the serene silence of the forest from its dense nature.

The horror film follows main character Sara’s journey to Japan and into this forest in attempt to find her twin sister who has mysteriously disappeared. Despite warnings from the locals to not enter ‘the haunted’ forest, Sara and her (randomly gathered) crew enter, “only to be confronted by the angry and tormented souls of the dead who now prey on anyone who crosses their paths” (Wikipedia). The trailer showed hanging corpses from trees in a demonic fashion and flashed scenes of zombie-like hands grabbing the characters, basically showing us that “The Forest” was just like any other ordinary (dumb) horror movie.

Some people have already spoken out about the discomfort they feel towards this film, but their main argument lean towards the problem of whitewashed Hollywood and cultural appropriation from the lack of Asian representation. As much as I agree on questioning this film, I reified my discomfort towards “The Forest” as the insensitivity of Hollywood and intersectional marginalization of the mentally ill Japanese—specifically felt because I was a Japanese American that knew and cared about the Japanese culture.

Although the real facts about Aokigahara do not matter in my argument or my continued discomfort with “The Forest”, I do want to include a few that show how the film’s representation of the Suicide Forest as this creepy, haunted place “based on true events” is wrong. After my thorough research on the Aokigahara forest, I found that parts of the forest are actually designated camping sites and nature parks that attract tourists across the nation. Only the very deep parts of the forest are advised against from entry, not because of any paranormal activity, but because the area becomes easy to get lost in and compasses do not work from concentrated iron in the forest soil. The local people of the Yamanashi Prefecture are working towards improving the image of the forest and find it sad that media repeatedly portrays the Aokigahara forest as a negative place. In reality, the forest is literally a beautiful sea of trees—the lively nature is a place of peaceful escape.

I want to reiterate the fact that the Aokigahara forest is a real place in Japan, and that real people are affected by the sadness that surrounds this spot. Horror movies clearly want the “based on real events” and “based on a real place” selling pitches to add to the spook effect—but to me, setting up Aokigahara as a haunted forest and demonizing the existing dead cross the line. Yes, hanging corpses and skeletons will be found in the Suicide Forest. And it is so important to remember that these are real people who all had loved ones, who all had a story, and who all were pushed to the limit that taking their lives became the best option.

Suicide is a national problem in Japan. The Japanese culture is one that heavily values responsibility and humility, and in addition to the strict work ethic that is taught and expected, many people are pushed to their limits especially at the workplace. However, mental illness and suicide prevention are both not talked about in Japan, and despite increased signs and patrols of the Aokigahara forest specifically, not much has improved. In fact, no one talks about mental illness among Asians in the U.S either, perhaps because we’re just “so smart” that it doesn’t affect us, and I just find it disappointing that when the U.S had the opportunity to bring up mental health among Asians (the Japanese specifically in this case), they chose to turn it into a horror Blockbuster instead. I do not expect the U.S and especially Hollywood to take any sort of initiative to help Japan’s suicide crisis, but I do find it problematic that Hollywood chose to exploit this serious problem in Japan for profit. The film is insensitive to those affected by the deaths that occur/occurred in the Aokigahara forest and to Japan’s serious crisis that needs attention for the right reasons.

In addition to the insensitivity of Hollywood for producing this film, I find the demonization of those who took their own lives to be outright disrespectful and a form of marginalization of the Asian mentally ill. I was shocked to see how the film literally called the spirits of the dead as “angry” souls that were out to “prey”—they actually chose to misrepresent the real (will continue to emphasize that the dead they speak of are real) people that took their lives out of despair and sadness as angry, hate-filled souls that are ‘out to get you’. The lack of public outrage from the advertisement of this film has found me thinking that perhaps no one cares because it misrepresents the foreign “other”—basically, as long as the misrepresented real dead that were mentally unstable are not American, it doesn’t really matter. Imagine a horror movie about the “tormented, angry souls” of the people who took their lives at the Golden Gate Bridge “preying” on people that “crossed their paths”. It would cause a national outrage.

The insensitivity of Hollywood and marginalization of the mentally ill Japanese both boil down to (what a surprise!) a form of cultural appropriation: adopting an aspect of a culture without acknowledging where it comes from or the context of it and exploiting it for personal gain. Hollywood movies are not meant to have social incentive or necessarily be 100 percent ethical, but I still believe that there is a line that should not be crossed when it comes to exploiting other cultures and its people for profit. Again, Hollywood is not necessarily supposed to portray reality, but misrepresentation is, in my opinion, completely separate from having a fictional storyline. If films are done right, I believe they have the power to do a lot of good by inciting important conversations, and in this situation, helping bring an end to the negative stigmas surrounding mental illness and raising awareness about Japan’s national suicide crisis. Although horror isn’t a genre we should take seriously anyway, I still find “The Forest” to be an insensitive film that did not take Japan, its culture, and its people seriously—and to me, that is a serious offense.

Cover Image Credit: http://cdn.traileraddict.com/content/focus-features/the-forest-poster.jpg

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Why High School Musicals Should Be As Respected As Sports Programs Are

The arts are important, too.
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When I was in middle school and high school, I felt like I lived for the musicals that my school orchestrated.

For those of you who don't know, a musical is an onstage performance wherein actors take on roles that involve singing, and often dancing, to progress the plot of the story. While it may sound a little bit nerdy to get up in front of an audience to perform in this manner, this is something you cannot knock until you try it.

For some reason, though, many public schools have de-funded arts programs that would allow these musicals to occur, while increasing the funding for sports teams. There are a few things that are being forgotten when sports are valued more than musical programs in high schools.

Much like athletic hobbies, an actor must try-out, or audition, to participate in a musical. Those best suited for each role will be cast, and those who would not fit well are not given a part. While this may sound similar to trying out for say, basketball, it is an apples to oranges comparison.

At a basketball try-out, those who have the most experience doing a lay-up or shooting a foul shot will be more likely to succeed, no questions asked. However, for an audition, it is common to have to learn a piece of choreography upon walking in, and a potential cast member will be required to sing a selected piece with only a few days of preparation.

There are many more variables involved with an audition that makes it that much more nerve-racking.

The cast of a school musical will often rehearse for several months to perfect their roles, with only several nights of performance at the end. Many sports practice for three or four days between each of their respective competitions. While this may seem to make sports more grueling, this is not always the case.

Musicals have very little pay-off for a large amount of effort, while athletic activities have more frequent displays of their efforts.

Athletes are not encouraged to but are allowed to make mistakes. This is simply not allowed for someone in a musical, because certain lines or entrances may be integral to the plot.

Sometimes, because of all the quick changes and the sweat from big dance numbers, the stage makeup just starts to smear. Despite this, an actor must smile through it all. This is the part of musicals that no sport has: introspection.

An actor must think about how he or she would respond in a given situation, be it saddening, maddening, frightening, or delightful. There is no sport that requires the knowledge of human emotion, and there is especially no sport that requires an athlete to mimic such emotion. This type of emotional exercise helps with communications and relationships.

Sports are great, don't get me wrong. I loved playing volleyball, basketball, track, and swimming, but there were no experiences quite like those from a musical. Sports challenge the body with slight amounts of tactic, while musicals require much physical and mental endurance.

The next time you hear someone say that it's “just a musical," just remember that musicals deserve as much respect as sports, since they are just as, if not more demanding.

Cover Image Credit: Cincinnati Arts

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10 Shows To Watch If You're Sick Of 'The Office'

You can only watch it so many times...

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"The Office" is a great show, and is super easy to binge watch over and over again! But if you're like me and you're looking for something new to binge, why not give some of these a try? These comedies (or unintentional comedies) are a great way to branch out and watch something new.

1. "New Girl"

A show about a group of friends living in an apartment in a big city? Sound familiar? But seriously, this show is original and fresh, and Nick Miller is an icon.

2. "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"

Ya'll have been sleeping on this show. It's a musical comedy about a girl that follows her ex boyfriend across the country. I thought it sounded horrible so I put it off for WAY too long, but then I realized how incredible the cast, music, writing, and just EVERYTHING. It really brings important issues to light, and I can't say too much without spoiling it. Rachel Bloom (the creator of the show) is a woman ahead of her time.

3. "Jane the Virgin"

I know... another CW show. But both are so incredible! Jane The Virgin is a tongue-in-cheek comedy and parody of telenovelas. It has so many twists and turns, but somehow you find yourself laughing with the family.

4. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been in popular news lately since its cancellation by Fox and sequential pickup by NBC. It's an amazing show about cops in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. Created by the amazing Michael Schur, it's a safe bet that if you loved "The Office" you'll also love his series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine".

5. "The Good Place"

Another series created by the talented Micael Schur, it's safe to say you've probably already heard about this fantasy-comedy series. With a wonderful cast and writing that will keep you on your toes, the show is another safe bet.

6. "Fresh Off The Boat"

Seriously, I don't know why more people don't watch this show. "Fresh Off The Boat" focuses on an Asian family living in Orlando in the mid 90s. Randall Parks plays a character who is the polar opposite of his character in "The Interview" (Yeah, remember that horrifying movie?) and Constance Wu is wonderful as always.

7. "Full House"

Why not go back to the basics? If you're looking for a nostalgic comedy, go back all the way to the early days of Full House. If you're a '98-'00 baby like me, you probably grew up watching the Tanner family on Nick at Night. The entire series is available on Hulu, so if all else fails just watch Uncle Jesse and Rebecca fall in love again or Michelle fall off a horse and somehow lose her memory.

8. "Secret Life of the American Teenager"

Okay, this show is not a comedy, but I have never laughed so hard in my life. It's off Netflix but it's still on Hulu, so you can watch this masterpiece there. Watch the terrible acting and nonsense plot twists drive this show into the ground. Somehow everyone in this school dates each other? And also has a baby? You just have to watch. It might be my favorite show of all time.

9. "Scrubs"

Another old show that is worth watching. If you ignore the last season, Scrubs is a worthwhile medical comedy about doctors in both their personal and medical life. JD and Turk's relationship is one to be jealous of, and one hilarious to watch. Emotional at times, this medical drama is superior to any medical drama that's out now.

10. "Superstore"

I was resistant to watch this one at first, because it looked cheesy. But once I started watching I loved it! The show is a workplace comedy, one you're sure to love if you can relate to working in retail. If you liked the Office, you'll like Superstore!

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