After bemoaning the lack of movies about plants eating people, I was directed by Chris Fletcher over at 10BillionCannons to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s disillusioned cop film Charisma. While no trees actually eat anybody (can we please make a really good plants-eating-people movie again? Seriously), Charisma is a heavy, atmospheric horror film as strange and wonderful as the titular mutant tree.
Koji Yakusho stylishly plays Yabuike, a weary police negotiator on leave after botching a hostage situation. Yabuike wanders into a unique forest, which appears to us simultaneously as primordial and beautiful as well as oppressive and noxious. The forest itself is an important character, a sort of supporting role to the humans and the central player– a tree called Charisma. Charisma is a rare mutation, perhaps the only of its kind, and it is fiercely protected by an ambiguous young man who allows Yabuike into his sanctuary near the tree. Equally morally ambiguous are a nearby botanist and her sister who battle the young man for Charisma, which they claim is killing the forest around it. Yabuike is elegantly undecided, as he tries to discern the subtle truth of the situation.
The film has been both celebrated and criticized for its central metaphor (according to most, the role of the individual in society). The tree, which may represent a starkly individual human being, like Yabuike, both attracts and repels the rest of society. There are those who would kill the tree to save the order and harmony of the forest, and there are those who fanatically devote themselves to the tree as a sort of pseudo-savior, but Yabuike sees the truth of Charisma lies somewhere in between.
Charisma is a complex film masquerading as a genre mystery. The ‘truth’ of the film lies somewhere outside of its narrative, just beyond the frame, which makes for rewarding and maddening viewing. The greatest gift a film can give to me is the ability to think about it afterwards, to ruminate on it for days or months, and in this sense Charisma is truly generous.
Britta R. Moline 1/7/12