Sunday, April 8, 2012

Video Backlog: “Tree of Palme”

Publisher: ADV Films (USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles
Length: 136 minutes
Production Date: 2001 (2002)
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

In an alien like world which may just be an alternate universe, an old inventor named Fou lives alone in a house next to a giant Koolop tree. He does have two non-human companions; a small dragon-like creature and Palme, a now mostly inactive boy robot carved out of a Koolop tree. Long ago Palme cared and played with Xian, Fou’s terminally ill wife. However after her inevitable death, Palme retreats into his own world seemingly depressed and eventually he ceases to function, except on the rare occasion when a giant fish like creature passes by. Some years later, a blue skinned woman named Kouram suddenly appears in Fou’s house. She pleads with Fou to deliver a mechanical globe she calls the Egg of Touto to an underground realm called Tamas. However coming as a shock to Fou, she also gives him a small amount of Crosskahla, a mythical blue sap that Xian dedicated her life to discovering. Kouram escapes just as Fou’s pursuers enter the house, obviously in search of her and the contraption she left behind. Fou has hidden the items from the soldiers prying eyes, but he is stabbed by them anyway and left to die. However after they leave to continue to hunt down Kouram, Fou’s final act is to use the Crosskahla along with inserting the Egg of Touto into Palme’s abdomen to revitalise his broken robot boy. When Palme awakens, some days after, he leaves his dead creator and begins his journey into the outside world.

Unfortunately for Palme, his journey starts out quite badly. Mistaken as an orphan child wandering the desert, he is captured with a group of other children and taken to a city, destined to be sold off. However the children are saved by a group of street urchins, who then take most of the children into their group. Due to Palme’s depressed nature, most consider a pest and useless to their cause. That is until they discover that Palme is a robot and contains Koolop tree oil, a substance that is highly valued in the marketplace. However a conflict occurs between a faction within the group who wants to sell off Palme and a minority who wants to save him. This comes to a head and a fight occurs, with a knife being held to Palme’s neck tubes which accidently releases some of the Crosskahla which floods the city with a blue light. The light alerts Kouram’s pursuers who are searching for the Egg of Touto. All hell breaks loose as the street urchin’s base is exposed and the group scatters. A trio of survivors manage to band together to help Palme; two rabbit like child creatures called Mu and Pu and Shatta, a young man of the same race as Kouram. Somehow they manage to stowaway aboard a small ship in order to flee the city and Palme’s pursuers. There he meets Popo, a young girl who resembles Xian. The initial meeting terrifies Popo, but it also awakens Palme out of his stupor and back to his former self. Leaving Popo’s abusive mother behind, Popo, Shatta, Mu and Pu continue one by foot to Tamas with Palme to complete the journey.

I first saw this film almost a decade ago at the Japnaime 02 film festival. I went to see it (along with a few other films screening that day) with a few people from the anime club. The subbed 35mm film print had been to more than a few film festivals in its brief life and was really worn out. The film broke a number of times and due to the film’s jumpy narrative we sort of wondered half-jokingly if that was due to film being missing some scenes because the film print was so damaged and brittle. Watching this film it seems the truth is that the narrative indeed jumps all over the place. Looking at ADV’s liner notes, it seems that this film was conceived as a TV series. Certainly the plot does feel rather compacted, and even with its long running time it really feels as if bits are missing. For example Mu and Pu secretly board a ship with Palme and later when discovered start calling Popo by her name even though there is no evidence that any of them have met. But the major problem with this film is Palme himself. It’s really hard to get inside his head and figure out what he is thinking. The way he acts in the latter half of the film completely contradicts flashbacks with him interacting with Xian, especially in terms of how he interacts with nature and in terms of how empathetic and sympathetic he is. What I hated the most is how Palme is treated during the first half of the film. He is beaten down many, many times and it becomes quite a depressing watch. The way Palme learns to “become human” is done in a really ham fisted way. They might have had a neon sign flashing during these bits saying “Palme is learning to become human”.

The film was conceived and directed by Takashi Nakamura. I really liked his 1995 kids film “Catland Banipal Witt (Catnapped!)”, and eagerly anticipated this film, but “Palme” really turned me off his work. It was only in the last year I saw his TV series “Fantastic Children”. Certainly Nakamura has a lot of great ideas in his works, but he seems to rarely pull it all together to create something that really cohesive. “Palme” is pretty much in the same boat. Reinterpreting “Pinocchio” in a sci-fi setting was a great idea and the artwork and world design is fantastic, but the story is just so damn cluttered with dead ends and scenes which should be trimmed. And most annoyingly as I said before there are several jumps in the film which aren’t explained. It’s as if whole scenes had been deleted from the film. The story is also told rather badly and there are just way, way too many ideas in this film. It’s as if Nakamura wanted to cram in as many ideas as possible into the film and then forgot to give any of them purpose or meaning. The strange vibrator/dildo like bola creatures are a perfect example of this. It’s obvious they are important to the story, the characters do fear their presence, but it is never really explained to the audience how they are important or how they are a threat. This is the last unwatched ADV disc in my pile (ignoring the Sentai Filmworks stuff of course). It’s kind of sad this load of bollocks id the final disc I have from the company. Overall it’s an extremely frustrating film with some beautiful looking art and sequences of animation that is told in a very poor way. I can only give it 4.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 28 months (it's much easier this way than listing the number of discs).

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