The Japanese Suicide Forest, and Sea of Trees

Often described as a "sea of trees", the dense Aokigahara forest is knitted into the base of Mt. Fuji as a 14-square-mile silent jungle. It harbours caves of ice, caves of wind, tales of evil spirits, and a heinous reputation: it is reportedly the most popular place in Japan to commit suicide.

In this Vice documentary, we follow Azusa Hayano, a geologist who also monitors sections of the forest. He guides us through the gorgeous, macabre scene of lush nature colliding with traces of human lives that buckled under despair. Sometimes he finds notes, other times articles of clothing. Some people leave behind pieces of coloured tape: they are wound between tree limbs as a marker for people to find their way back from the veritable edge of another dimension. From bodies hanging in trees to would-be suicides changing their minds, the unflappably brave Azusa has seen it all.

The documentary is a solemn, beautiful poem. In learning more about the forest, I discovered last month's announcement that Gus Van Sant will be making the film Sea of Trees, which will be set in Aokigahara, starring Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe. It'll be really interesting to see Van Sant's treatment of the subject of suicide, and of this dark, mythical place.


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