Hollywood Insensitivity And "The Forest"

Hollywood Insensitivity And "The Forest"

What's wrong about this new horror movie supposedly based on true events.

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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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.


Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.

I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.

I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.

As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

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