“The Forest” – New film disrespectful to Japanese suicide epidemic?

Hollywood is not exactly known for respecting people with disabilities. It seems that for every instance where progress is made, a step backwards occurs as well. Luckily, we as an audience can choose which films to support and which to boycott. I propose that The Forest be one of those boycotted films.

The Forest was released early January of 2016, and depicts the fictional story of a woman whose search for her missing twin sister leads her to Aokigahara Forest, or Suicide Forest, in Japan. Aokigahara Forest is a place of tragedy that deserves respect. The BBC states that in 2014 more than 25,000 Japanese people committed suicide. In an essay for The Mary Sue, Charline Jao explains the underlying contributors to Japan’s high suicide rate, saying, “Many point to the cultural history of ‘honorable suicide,’ financial pressure (insurance companies paying out for suicide), unemployment, bullying, and social isolation. There’s especially a lot of writing on the ways mental health issues are often overlooked and talking about them feels very taboo.” She goes onto point out that casting a white lead in a Japanese setting that involves an issue particularly specific to the Japanese culture, “gives me the message that people don’t empathize with non-white characters and the stories of the actual people aren’t worth telling (or worse, inspiration for entertainment).

The Forest is primarily a horror movie, with one of the main supernatural elements being the angry spirits of those who have died within it. It is hard to believe that the directors of The Forest are aware that it is a real place when they are so callous with their representations of the deceased. A Facebook-based blog, The Love Life of an Asian Guy, scathingly commented on the problematic nature of The Forest, stating that the film “had an opportunity to address an issue that is literally killing Japanese citizens by the thousands. An issue that would have hit home with many Asian-Americans who also suffer from mental illness and depression. But instead of reaching out and confronting a problem that exists and is on-going, Hollywood turned it into a horror movie and whitewashed its cast, thus dehumanizing not only Asians around the globe affected by mental health, but those who have already committed suicide.”

I thought about including a trailer for The Forest at the end of this article, but honestly, I would prefer not to give the film further promotion. If you would like to view it, it is available on YouTube. Instead, if you would like to learn more about Aokigahara Forest, I’d like to direct you to the brief documentary “Aokigahara Suicide Forest,” which offers a genuine glimpse at the forest and the epidemic of suicide it is so strongly associated with.

This video may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of Rooted in Rights.

Aokigahara Suicide Forest from Jim Demuth on Vimeo.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.