A Tree of Palme
(from the box copy)
When a mysterious woman gives Palme (an apathetic robot made from the sacred kuroop tree) the Egg of Touto and charges him with a crusade which has put the fate of the world into his hands, a journey of rebirth and discovery unfolds.
Chased by a mysterious group of mercenaries, Palme teams up with a band of misfits only to discover the complexity of the human condition and what it truly means "to be alive."
Throughout this release, much is made of its creator, Nakamura Takashi, and his status as chief animation director of ... what was that film, again? Akira, was it? Yeah. Never heard of it.
Okay, obviously, that was a fairly lame attempt at a joke, but all frivolity aside, A Tree of Palme is essentially Akira set in a children's surrealist dream world. If you've seen Akira, then you have an idea of what to expect, with a few cosmetic changes. Instead of pulsating flesh, you've got wildly sprouting plants. Instead of rowdy, violent teenagers, you've got rowdy, violent street-kids. Instead of the postapocalyptic wasteland of Neo-Tokyo, you've got a wasteland sparsely populated with wacky trees (kinda sorta like that other seminal anime film, Nausicaa). Oh, yeah, and there's the whole bit about the glowing blue pendant, because, you know, anime has never been fond of those.
There are, however, some things about this film that, to put it simply, just don't work for me. Palme's character design very actively brings to mind Pinocchio, but Disney's Geppetto hardly shares the same sad fate as Palme's creator. In fact, the very cartoony character designs really don't mesh with the often violent and bloody content within. Metropolis managed to get away with it, due to the setting, but Tree of Palme just can't manage to reconcile visual style with content throughout most of the film. The effect is jarring at best and grotesque at worst.
If the character work had been stellar, then Tree of Palme might have had a chance to truly shine, but the writing simply fails the actors here. Palme (played bravely by Hiramatsu Akiko in the sub) is put through ham-handed scenes of "character development" that feel more like drug-induced mood swings than actual development, and there are points in this film that his actions are downright creepy. None of the other characters really advances beyond archetypal status and all of them feel less like characters than plot devices or allegories.
For all the plot devices used in this film, the story is simultaneously too long and insufficient for the bounds of its subject matter. Too much time is taken ruminating on simplistic character scenes, or basking in the admittedly intriguing world design, while too little is taken on developing the characters into something we should care about. It's really too bad ... this could've been a series of movies, or maybe an OAV series, but as a single movie, it's just all a bit much.
What's a real shame is that the art and animation are mostly quite good. While the character designs are simplistic and reminiscent of children's film, the visuals are often stunningly beautiful and quite interesting. Unfortunately, the creators seem a bit too taken with their own work, and plot often takes a back seat to lovingly created scenery shots. It's almost as if the creators forgot this was a movie, not a travelogue.
The one aspect of this film that really nags me is its intended audience. The concepts brought up in this film are simply too complex and too heavy for younger audiences, but the character designs and some of the scenes with the street kids are obviously not meant for older audiences. Tree of Palme simply can't decide who it's for, and therefore it just comes off as half-hearted. Nakamura and his team simply should have gone with either a more simplistic children's tale, or a darker psychological drama, rather than playing at both.
It would not be fair to say this movie is bad. There are far too many skilled elements here for this movie to be completely ignored, especially as a piece of art. Unfortunately, with its stammering, stuttering plot and its thin characterization, Tree of Palme seems more effective as an artistic showcase than as an actual film.
For all that this film is beautiful and interesting, it is also confusingly conceived and plotted. Those who don't mind thin characterization and serious pacing issues may add a star, but those who need more than just imagery may want to rent something else. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: There is a surprising amount of violence in this film, and there are several very bloody scenes. There is also a scene of vaguely implied pedophilia on the part of one very minor character, though thankfully nothing comes of it. Even excepting this, there is quite a bit of peril aimed at children, and I can not recommend this for younger audiences, despite the cutesy character designs.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (1/1)
A Tree of Palme © 2002 Nakamura Takashi / Genco / Tree of Palme Production Committee
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