A simplistic coming of age film centering around food and nature, Little Forest is full of small nuances and metaphors that’ll captivate your heart.
Plot Summary: Based on the manga series of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, the film tells the story of Hye-Won (Kim Tae-Ri) who returns to her rural hometown in the countryside, leaving behind broken dreams and a shaky relationship. She reunites with her childhood friends, Jae-Ha (Ryu Jun-Yeol) and Eun-Sook (Jin Ki-Joo), discovering that the three of them have grown with different experiences and life aspirations. Her traditional home holds painful memories of her mother but the dishes Hye-Won creates are filled with positive remembrances, full of love and warmth.
Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
I accidentally came across a scene from the film on YouTube (oh YouTube, sometimes I love your recommendations) and immediately had to add it to my list of films to watch, and that’s largely due to the artistic style of the movie. It’s indie-like and attests to the original source material’s genre which is slice of life. It can be hard to convey a slice of life series onto the big screen because they’re so stripped down of a lot of the factors we consider to be ‘entertaining.’ Instead, the genre gives us matted-down material so we’re given a product that’s brimming with realistic aspects and poignant matter.
The dialogue is extremely subtle but impactful, artfully delivered in ways that couple perfectly with the entire centralization of food and nature. All the metaphors the film provides stem from nature and the idea of planting, while deeper emotions of friendship and family are correlated with the dishes Hye-Won recreates. A good example would be that all good things take time to cultivate and that applies to everything in life. Hye-Won of course, learns this as she revisits her childhood memories and goes back to a place isolated from the self-absorbed city life. One of the most simple pieces of dialogue that was heavy with meaning is when Hye-Won tells Eun-Sook she came home because she was hungry.
Whether hungry for change, from the mundane and manufactured life in Seoul, to literal hunger, wanting a real meal to eat, that simple sentence holds so much to be interpreted and it’s moments like these that make the film such a refreshing watch. I also find it fascinating how the movie manages to deliver its characters struggles and life decisions in the least draining way possible for its viewers, with a lack of conflict or antagonist. Jae-Ha went to Seoul just like Hye-Won, only to come to the realization that he couldn’t be tied down to a life of orders and demands from superiors, and this revelation unearths Hye-Won’s own hidden reasons for wanting to come home while contrasting with Eun-Sook’s longing to go to the city. They’re characterizations are so divergent but blend in a way that you’re aware of how different yet close the three friends are, with sparks of romance and rivalry in the air as well.
Most of all, the movie addresses finding happiness with a different standard. Instead of reprimanding Hye-Won for returning home after she’s failed her college exams, her friends and family accept her for her failures and welcome her with open-arms. I think this breaks a cultural barrier in the nicest way possible, reminding people that happiness isn’t always obtained by climbing the social ladder of success or status, and that happiness can exist where you started instead of where you think you should be headed. Hye-Won’s perspective becomes shifted as she re-experiences life in the countryside, since time feels like it moves differently with a set of priorities unlike anything she had to do in Seoul. She doesn’t have this intensely stressful life full of expectations but daily responsibilities revolving around agriculture. And all the physical effort that goes into sustaining her life, add signification into the meals and dishes she makes.
Of course the food elements are a personal favourite for me! Nothing goes to waste but a lot of the emotional notes are hit as Hye-Won recollects a dish her mother once made for her. Light but tenderhearted moments are delivered through scenes where she shares a meal with her friends, revisits the past when her mother made a dish that simply felt like home, or pours her soul into cooking when she feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Hye-Won attempts to erase her mother from her mind since she felt abandoned, but begrudgingly understands her as a woman and everything she once told her as a child. Little forest happens to mean a safe haven or home, so the fact that the title alone presents a metaphor indicates just how many more are hidden in the film, whether through acts of cooking, memories, or the present our characters are experiencing.
It is slow but that’s largely due to the cinematic style the movie takes on. As I’m watching the movie, I was actually quite surprised that I came across a Korean film like this since its style and deliverance felt a lot like Japanese films, especially independent ones. So it all fell into place for me when I discovered that this was a remake of a manga series, and that the style and tone were strikingly similar to Japanese cinema. There’s just something wholesome and sweet to Japanese films based on realistic and simple subject matter and you can definitely feel that with Little Forest. There isn’t anything grand or superficial about this, being entertaining in the sense that it’s highly picturesque with beautiful cinematography.
I obviously have nothing but good things to say about this since it was such a pleasant movie for me but don’t take my word for it. I’d like to think that such an incredible cast assembled together because they saw how moving such a simplistic film was, depicting the basic joys in life. And that being said, it’s a cast that’s well-known and acclaimed, so if the genre doesn’t appeal to you then maybe the actors might. It’s a great film to add to your list if you want something sweet, slow, and full of summer longing.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but still highly recommended as an uplifting and refreshing watch. With aesthetically pleasing food, feelings of nostalgia, and the small things in life that make it meaningful, Little Forest is a gem of movie and shouldn’t be tossed out without being given a chance.
Release Date: February 28, 2018 (Eng Sub available on Viki)