VICE Magazine’s short, riveting documentary on Japan’s Aokigahara forest (also known as The Sea of Trees), perhaps the country’s most popular location for those wishing to end their own lives (and reported to be the second most popular location in the world behind the Golden Gate Bridge. The forest’s popularity is often cited as being due to Seichō Matsumoto’s 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai, which features two lovers committing suicide there, but the forest has a history of being associated with suicide and death in general before its publication. In the 19th century families would practice ubasute (literally “abandoning an old woman”) a tradition in which an elderly or infirm family member was brought to a place and left to die, exposed to the elements. In recent years, the rate of suicides has been on the rise:
[…] people started taking their own lives there at a rate of 50 to 100 deaths a year. The site holds so many bodies that the Yakuza pays homeless people to sneak into the forest and rob the corpses. The authorities sweep for bodies only on an annual basis, as the forest sits at the base of Mt. Fuji and is too dense to patrol more frequently.
It’s a very well done piece. Azusa Hayano is, perhaps, the perfect tour guide. It would seem that a geologist would be completely out of his element combing the woods for corpses but he makes for a peaceful and truly compassionate Virgil; managing to keep the horror of the surroundings from being completely overwhelming. His ability to retain some hope amidst such profound sadness is, perhaps, the film’s greatest gift.