Credit to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Forest_Poster.jpg
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School

Why I’m boycotting ‘The Forest’

Credit to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Forest_Poster.jpg
Credit to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Forest_Poster.jpg

The horror movie genre has begun to see a new uptick in popularity. From M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” to Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus,” scary films are seeing largely positive commercial reception, certainly encouraging other directors to promote films in this similar genre. In general, I like scary movies. I enjoy a good psychological thriller, preferably watched during the safety of the daytime, where I cling to the edge of my seat with anticipation and adrenaline. However, there’s one film I’m not seeing in theaters, or at home, or anywhere, for that matter. It’s Jason Zada’s “The Forest.”

It’s scheduled to come out on Jan. 8, 2016, riding on the swell of the consumerist holiday culture. This movie has a fairly simple, relatively unproblematic plot. The main character loses her twin sister in a forest and struggles to first, find her and second, get her back in one piece. On face value, it’s standard theater fare. So why do I urge its boycott?

The setting. “The Forest” takes place in – can you guess? – a forest, but not just any forest. Instead, it’s set in Aokigahara, the infamous Japanese “Suicide Forest,” where approximately 100 people go to commit suicide each year. It’s a gruesome setting, and best of all, it actually exists. Myths swirl around this mysterious glen, such plentiful material for an aspiring movie director. However, unfortunately, this setting is the only thing Japanese that carries importance in the movie. Zada structures the story around an American tourist, played by Natalie Dormer, and the only Japanese individuals exist for plot development and to play second fiddle to the distinctly non-Japanese protagonist. It’s standard cultural appropriation, where an entire ethnicity is only important so much as it affects the main character.

Moreover, Zada completely drops the opportunity to address the reason why the Suicide Forest exists in the first place. Nowhere does he address the mental health epidemic in East Asia, where the culture of shame forces problems to be shoved down to the bottom until they become too large to deal with. Nowhere does he address the government’s efforts to stop these suicides, such as posting warning signs urging people to choose life and not reporting annual suicide numbers to discourage those numbers from increasing. East Asia has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, and this was a wonderful opportunity to address this to a large, diverse audience. Too often are Asians painted with a broad brush as a “model minority,” limiting their unique issues to stereotypes such as test scores. Not using an Asian main character to deal with an Asian problem in an Asian setting only furthers these misconceptions by perceptually preventing minorities from expressing their own opinions and issues in cinema.

In my opinion, it’s frankly degrading and dehumanizing for Zada to represent suicide victims as nothing more than a movie prop for scare tactics. He threw away an amazing opportunity to actually give a voice to a group which so desperately wants and needs it. And so I refuse to support his cinematic idea. I refuse to continue the silence of mental illness in the East Asian community. I refuse to accept the usage of Asian settings as “trendy” and “edgy” while only contextualizing them in the eyes of a foreigner, ignoring the native population’s perspective. Thus, I shall boycott “The Forest,” for I will not agree to financially support an entertainer who contributes to the oppression of  a minority group.

38 Comments

  • Reply Drew December 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    he is not required to do anything more than make a movie for the purpose of entertaining people ..as long as the movie isn’t going to encourage more suicides I don’t see why he has to do anything other than make a movie ..

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 30, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      Perhaps it would be easier to explain this issue in the context of another global epidemic. Would it be tasteful for a movie director to make a horror flick using Ebola victims as zombies terrorizing local volunteer scientists? You are correct in pointing out that movie directors do not have a legal obligation to do anything other than produce a film. I am not attacking all film directors, nor am I criticizing every single piece of Jason Zada’s work. Rather, I am critiquing one specific movie that offends its potential consumers by minimizing mental health, a severe problem in East Asia, and dehumanizing suicide victims.

      Like

      • Reply Javier January 7, 2016 at 10:48 pm

        By boycotting this flix – did beg the question of why? It lead me to this post and discovered why. I never knew that there was a Forrest that (maybe) attracted this horrible act. I don’t know if this movie’s filmmaker was insensitive to what’s going on there, but the message of boycotting this film did send shockwaves of awareness of what’s happening in, Japan.

        Like

        • Reply Laura Griffin January 7, 2016 at 11:02 pm

          Hi Javier, I’m urging the boycott of this film due to its dehumanization of suicide victims, tasteless usage of epidemic victims for shock value, and cultural appropriation. While the film’s synopsis may have led to greater discourse, does that necessarily justify the poor, tasteless film itself?

          Like

  • Reply Educated consumer December 30, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Also, have you seen the movie to be able to accurately accuse the director whether or not he did or did not respect the setting? Perhaps you may want to see the film and educate yourself before jumping so quick to shame someone.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 30, 2015 at 8:37 pm

      As stated in the article, the movie comes out on January 8th, 2016. I have not seen it and do not intend to see it in theaters because I do not want to financially support this enterprise.

      Moreover, there are aspects of the film that are problematic without having to even see the film. You can look at “Stonewall” as another example. It was based on the 1969 Stonewall riots in which LGBT+ POC fought for gay rights…and yet the main character was a fictional gay white boy. Movies such as “Stonewall” and “The Forest” take away roles from POC actors/actresses, who struggle against the stereotypes so industriously propagated by the entertainment business, which is already a tough industry to succeed in. Meanwhile, the fact that the director capitalized on a suicide epidemic in East Asia for a flick is repulsive in itself, regardless of the director’s intentions.

      Consequently, if you do see the film, please let me know! Although I shall boycott the film, I would love to know whether the plot actually shows suicide victims in a sympathetic light rather than murderous demons and whether the director takes the time to treat the Japanese characters (although primarily they are all supporting characters) with respect and dignity.

      Like

    • Reply mojojojo February 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      I see another person who is too far in their feelings. That’s it.

      Like

  • Reply Ifrit December 30, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Hmm well a Japanese person would know not to go in the forest in this “movie setting”, why not make a setting where an ignorant tourist wanders in and get “taken”. Plus you need to take into account that alot of people do hike in that forest, it’s not off limits. Ands it’s not approximately 100 people a year because in 2010 only 54 people actually committed suicide and the most deaths ever recorded was in 2003 at 105 with the prior being 78.
    People walk through the Gettysburg battlefield where 46 thousand people died, no one’s angry about that.

    Boycotting this movie is like trying to do the same thing to the poltergeist because the woman psychic wasn’t a native american.
    I’m not telling you what to watch, just don’t copy paste false facts

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 31, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Ifrit,
      Here’s an excellent article on the Aokigahara Forest that I believe is the appropriate way to respectfully show the natural landscape without vilifying suicide victims: http://www.xojane.com/fun/aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan

      Next, onto your statement about the number of suicide victims in Aokigahara. While I believe that the fact suicides regularly occur there precedes the importance of how many suicides there are, here’s another source about the number of individuals found there **Trigger warning: this article has graphic images. I believe the government has also stopped reporting the number of suicides there to discourage more suicides, so any statistics we do use will be rather dated.
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2127414/The-suicide-forest-Japan-Mystery-Mount-Fuji-beauty-spot-100-bodies-year.html

      Lastly, onto your last provocative statement about how Gettysburg is an acceptable location despite the large numbers of dead, so thus, the Forest should be treated similarly. Here’s my problem with your logic, however – did we film zombie movies in Gettysburg while soldiers were dying? Are we filming Ebola horror flicks taking place in Liberia? No, we aren’t. So why is it acceptable to film suicide victims-turned-demons in a forest which is the most popular place in Japan to commit suicide? We should not capitalize on health epidemics, especially one as poorly reported as the mental health epidemic is in East Asia. This is a cultural problem that East Asians are struggling to face and deal with, and instead Jason Zada decides to vilify mental illness and add to the stigma. The problem is that this is an ongoing epidemic where the victims are current and one of us, not from a distant war.

      Like

  • Reply Damion December 31, 2015 at 10:39 am

    What’s the big deal? Do you have nothing better to do? It’s a movie. Only reason I’m commenting is I have nothing better to do right now. Same reason I even read this. Now excuse me, I’m going to find something better to do now.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 31, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      The presentation of East Asian culture in Western Society is a cause I’m very passionate about. Traditionally Asians are lumped in a homogeneous mixture as the “model minority,” which leads to many detrimental effects such as greater likelihood of suicidal thoughts, lesser likelihood to be approved for social services, and being judged by a higher standard than their non-Asian peers. Mental health is generally overlooked in East Asian society, which leads to tragically high suicide rates. Combine these facts with the entertainment industry, which limits POC actors/actresses in general to stereotypical or supporting roles for largely comedic effect, and you’ll find that I care very much about “The Forest.” This is more than just a movie to me. It’s the representation of my people that matters.

      Like

  • Reply dood December 31, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Maybe the actual film will have some kind of meaningful redeeming factor, but I don’t count on it.
    What it really reminds me of is that there is also a horror movie about the Chernobyl disaster (called Chernobyl diaries). The victims of that tragedy were turned into monsters that you’re supposed to fear, all for entertainment. Yes, it’s real, people really have no limits on depravity.
    I’m sure you don’t have to worry about people enjoying this movie. The only people who will decide to watch this film for enjoyment are the same type of people who made the film. Tasteless, talentless, out-of-touch people who want to milk real people and real things for money. Maybe at the least, they’re just not very bright. It’s just too bad that there are so many of them.
    I hope this flops big time.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 31, 2015 at 4:18 pm

      You make an excellent point. Depravity in the film industry is not limited by tact, but rather off of capitalization and shock factor. Thank you for bringing up another example and showing what a global problem this is. I really appreciate your commentary about the people who enjoy this movie – it was refreshingly honest. However, I also noticed that this movie isn’t largely talked about, even though I see trailers for it everywhere. I wanted to let people know what the context of this movie really was, because unlike the Chernobyl incident, the mental health crisis in East Asia is shockingly under-reported.
      I hope this flops as well, which is why I wholeheartedly intend on never watching it in theaters. I refuse to support this film in any way possible, especially monetarily.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  • Reply Emma Anderson December 31, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Great article Laura! Wonderfully written and researched :)

    Like

  • Reply MJ Fisher December 31, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    I think you make very good points. While the movie industry has no obligation to consider its social impact, they should recognise that they have the ability to and make the most of it.

    Like

  • Reply aud December 31, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    i agree wholeheartedly with this post, the movie industrializes something so beautiful and meaningful with complete disrespect for the people who have died there.
    everyone, boycott the forest

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin December 31, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      Thank you so much for your support and kind comment!

      Like

  • Reply Sean January 1, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    People do not attend a horror movie with the expectation of receiving a PSA on the problems of suicide and mental illness within Japanese culture. Mental illness and abuse are often used as a tool in Japanese horror, look at the masterpeace of horror Audition from director Takashi Miike. Takashi uses an abused girls phychotic PTSD to create a thought provoking and gruesome story while never bashing you over the head with guidelines on how we need to treat mental illness. Now while the forest is obviously nowere near that level it is stupid to say it fails as a film because it doesn’t adequitly address mental health, that is the job of medical textbooks, polititians, and doctors not entertainment.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      Mental illness and horror are used in cinema to elicit shock reactions from heteronormative individuals, this is true. However, just because something is done regularly does not necessarily speak to the merits of the institution itself. For example, using trendy foreign places for a glamour factor has occurred since Shakespeare’s time and mostly likely before that as well; however, commodifying a culture and dehumanizing victims of mental illness does not justify a catchy setting.
      Now, let’s look at the crux of your argument. You state that a film doesn’t need to instruct or teach anything; its sole purpose is to entertain. You are correct, a film technically does not have any legal obligation to educate or even have representation of historically and currently oppressed voices. However, you state that this is the job of textbooks, politicians, etc. Look in America where primarily mental illness is discussed in the context of mass shootings. Look to East Asia where suicide is seen as a shameful act rather than a consequence of the incredible pressure and strain of a collectivist society with high standards. This is an issue which is not being properly addressed by the media, which sends a message to a much wider demographic than a textbook or politician would. Meanwhile, look at the ads for “The Forest.” They pop up everywhere, on billboards to YouTube ads. The director knows that his movie will reach a large audience and there is so much more he could have done to tackle this problem within this movie. However, even if addressing that mental illness should be treated similarly in society as physical illness is too much to ask of him, the very least Jason Zada could have done was not turn suicide victims into demons who exist solely to haunt and terrorize tourists.

      Like

  • Reply Josh Schlachter January 1, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    I’m really grateful that you had the courage to voice this in such a well written article. I agree with your opinion, and looking at these comments, it’s clear that you are educated and really care about important issues like this one.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 1, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment! I really appreciate your kind words.

      Like

  • Reply Dylan January 1, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Hi Laura,
    Great article! I, myself won’t be seeing the movie based on the subject matter and the disrespect shown toward victims of suicide. The Vice documentary on the forest was also very insightful/sad/uplifting and should be seen by everybody as well.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 1, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      Hi Dylan, thanks so much for your comment and support! The VICE documentary really opened my eyes to the truth of the Aokigahara Forest and I’m glad you felt the same way.

      Like

  • Reply Ryan January 2, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Laura, I can tell you’re a smart young woman, but I disagree with the article. I, for one, will be seeing this film due to my love of horror films. Regardless of whether or not you go and see it, the film industry will still be making beaucoup bucks on this one, for sure.

    Cheers

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 2, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Ryan! Watching the movie is completely your choice and I respect your decision. However, I hope that at least now, you know more of the context surrounding the Aokigahara Forest and the suicide epidemic of East Asia. In all likelihood, this movie will still make millions of dollars regardless of my article, but attempting to bankrupt a movie was never my intent. Rather, I wanted people to learn more about the culture and problems East Asia faces and how this movie should not be indicative of those. I want people to remember that this is an ongoing epidemic and the scary demons in the movie are poor substitutes for the actual suicide victims. Given that the culture of shame forces this type of discourse away from the public eye, it was important to me to remind those who ordinarily wouldn’t know about the culture just what it really stands for.

      Like

  • Reply Margret January 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I really wish you would see a film like this before you poison people’s mind with rambling nonsense. You have no idea how the director addressing suicide in the film. You have no idea what the intentions were in making the film. You are judging a film based on trailers and pictures. A responsible, journalistic first step would be to watch the film and critique. You are doing more than simply judging a book by its cover. You are encouraging others to do the same. Shame.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Let’s look at what the director has to say about his own movie. Looking at his quotes will show the directorial intent.

      Whitewashing/Cultural Appropriation: “The entire film is shown through Sara’s perspective, so you get to see that in her mind, some things aren’t as perfect as she thinks they are.” This quote proves that Japanese culture is only important so far as it affects Sara, because the entire narrative is limited to Sara’s POV. Asian characters only matter if they impact Sara’s life; they hold no weight on their own.

      Trivializing suicide: “I was first pitched the idea by David Goyer and Lava Bear. They loosely told me the story, and explained that it follows a woman who goes to the forest to find her missing twin sister. It was the forest in Japan that stuck in my head, and I thought it was the craziest thing. The fact that the story about the forest in the film is real, and hundreds of people go there every year to commit suicide, was the most fascinating thing for me. So I instantly wanted to be involved. The story and location just stuck with me.” Zada only cares about the suicide victims in context of their shock factor rather than their humanity. How do you think this is going to be reflected in the film? Looking at the trailers themselves – widely disseminated pieces of film that are largely indicative of how the film is going to turn out – the suicide victims are only showed as demons who terrorize the main character.

      Trivializing the forest and Japanese culture: Jason Zada argues that he is “[showing] respect to both Japanese culture and the people who have died in the forest” by mimicking the Aokigahara Forest’s landscape in the Serbian forest he shot at. How does making the setting look realistic hold any impact when there are actual people affected by this tragedy? What is the point in maintaining faithfulness to the trees if you’re not going to be faithful to the people?

      Like

  • Reply Stephanie January 6, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Do you feel the same way about “The Grudge”, “The Eye” and “The Ring”? For that matter…what about “Silent Hill” and “Girl Interrupted” or “Full Metal Jacket?

    I happen to work in Mental Health and know for a fact that ALL suicide and depression issues are drastically under-reported. This movie doesn’t appear to be looking down on any serious issues. There are plenty of places where people commit suicide…where people have Suicide Pacts and the like….movies have been made about them as well and had little to no impact. If anything it makes people curious about Mental illness and Psychology. Which is a great thing especially if you want to open peoples eyes.

    As far as the racial factor….Read my first sentence. People in other countries use places in America for backdrops in their movies that we, as Americans, would consider “taboo”.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 6, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      First off, “Full Metal Jacket” is an anti-war film designed to show the horrors of war and its negative mental consequences. Next, “The Eye” is about a girl who gets a cornea transplant. There’s no overwhelming oppressive mental stigma about eye surgery. Moreover, some of the movies such as “The Grudge” I do find upsetting due its handling of domestic abuse.
      Next, I do value your opinion as someone who works in the medical field, specifically in mental health. I’m glad for your contribution and yes, suicide rates are underreported. However, I’m not arguing that Asian suicide rates are more deserving of news coverage than other suicides – a life is a life. But it is upsetting when there is little to no recognition for Asian American mental health discourse. You can look to following article here: http://reappropriate.co/2015/07/why-is-the-new-york-times-rendering-the-suicide-deaths-of-asian-american-invisible/
      I would love to have more discourse about mental health, but I don’t think that “The Forest” is conducive to that goal. There’s a French film called “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” that deals with erotomania. At the end of the movie, they have an explanation of the condition, as well as a quote from someone who has erotomania. For me, that’s the ideal type of discourse – yes, it’s certainly interesting to produce a film around something that most people would not necessarily know about, but it’s better that they have a PSA at the end to remind the audience that those who suffer from mental disorders are human and gives them an opportunity to have a voice. For me, providing that PSA right at the end of the film makes the biggest impact because you guarantee exposure to the truth, compared to hoping that a person will leave the movie theater interested enough to explore the deeper condition rather than just being satisfied with the surface meaning of the movie.
      Lastly, back to the racial factor. Whitewashing is a major flaw in the film industry which limits unique POC actors to stereotypes. My critique of the movie stems from multiple perspectives – firstly, from mental health discourse to Asian American representation to racism in the film industry to perception of Asian culture in America. Next, I also have issues with the film’s cultural appropriation, which stems from the fact that Japanese culture only matters so far as it affects the main character, an American Caucasian tourist. As America is currently a cultural hegemon, copying America is seen as assimilation to be encouraged rather than appropriation to further oppression. I’d like to see some of the movies that you talk about being “taboo;” I haven’t heard of this before and would be fascinated to see America’s representation in other countries’ film industries.

      Like

  • Reply anonymous hs student January 6, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Wonderful article Laura! I’m sorry you had to deal with some of these troll commenters but your responses totally vanquished them! Keep doing you!

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 6, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind comment!! I really appreciate the support :)

      Like

  • Reply TDB January 8, 2016 at 8:03 am

    I was so impressed at your article and am happy to see such thoughtful and mature writing coming from high school journalists. Then I read the comments and was further impressed by your maturity in dealing with so many negative responses. (Even if they disagree, can’t they at least attempt to have tact?)

    Anyway, very interesting perspective that I certainly hadn’t considered upon seeing the trailers. I think your points are valid and well-substantiated, and I think the arguments you bring up are important and overlooked.

    Thank you for getting this dialogue going, and keep up the great writing! From The Handmaid’s Tale: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” – “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” One of the best takeaways I took from high school!

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 10, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment! Your kind words and support really mean a lot to me. I really appreciate you taking the time to post this :)

      Like

  • Reply Sam Cook January 8, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Well written article, though I’m not sure if you’ve pegged down the notion that the film in full will get across. I’m a bit of a horror buff and was getting a different vibe from the marketing.

    I’m fairly certain this film is marketing from one direction to create an unexpected story on the horrors of mental illness using visual metaphors.

    At least what I have gotten out of the marketing is that the story is going to end up following someone who is a victim of mental illness and her personal journey through her own battle with the demons of suicide as represented by having to face other victims head on. I really don’t see it as cultural appropriation in large to have a setting that is interesting to learn about. If anything, this will get more NA and EU watchers interested in reading about the issues plauging the region.

    Horror isn’t always something to write off at face value, especially not from its marketing campaigns. I’ll be checking out the film at some point to see if the feelings I was getting will be accurate. I just don’t think it’s fair to judge somethings merits on its marketing.

    Like

    • Reply Laura Griffin January 10, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment! Hopefully that will be the route the movie takes, but I don’t think that that will be enough to justify transforming a real place with a tragic history into a commercialized horror film.

      Like

  • Reply Miles October 18, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    This is ancient but I felt the need to post when I found it. All the people calling the author out for having not even seen it, boycotting it and judging the movie before even knowing what it contained, thank you. You can’t read a few blurbs about it and then just go off on a tangent because you think you know something. That’s not real journalism.

    I saw it, and it’s not a great movie, not remotely scary, but this was something people put hours and days of work into. It practically feels like slander when you’re just throwing around terms like whitewashing with no real basis. It just comes off as self-aggrandizing and desperate to stir up controversy where there is none.

    Like

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