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  Tree of Palme, A Like a puppet on a string
Year: 2005
Director: Takashi Nakamura
Stars: Akiko Hiramatsu, Daisuke Shakaguchi, Megumi Toyoguchi, Etsuko Kozakura, Hiroshi Yanaka, Ichirô Nagai, Isamu Tanonaka, Jouji Nakata, Katsuhisa Houki, Kouka, Mari Yokoo, Masashi Ebaa, Mika Kanai, Motomu Kiyokawa, Mughito, Rikako Aikawa, Ryuji Saikachi
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In either an undisclosed post-apocalyptic future or a surreal parallel world, a mechanical boy named Palme (voiced by Akiko Hiramatsu) is carved from the wood of the mystical kuloop tree to care for a sickly, bedridden girl named Xian (Kouka). When Xian dies, Palme becomes literally paralyzed with sorrow until decades later he encounters a ghostly, blue-skinned warrior woman called Koram (Yurika Hino). This world is divided in two, with a surface wonderland known as Arcana and the subterranean high-tech metropolis of Tamas, home to a race of blue-skinned humans ruled by a slowly withering tree god called Soma. Now Koram, a warrior of Tamas, entrusts Palme with returning the mysterious Egg of Toutou to her homeland, with the promise its power will make him a real boy.

Wacky alien rabbit-boy Goo (Mika Kanai) and his kind kid sister Moo (Etsuko Kozakura) rescue Palme from a child slave trafficker and induct him into a gang of street urchins led by blue-skinned sword hero Shatta (Daisuke Shakaguchi), who turns out to be Koram’s son. Palme also befriends Popo (Megumi Toyoguchi), a winsome, lute-playing little girl much abused and possibly prostituted by her resentful mother Daruyama (Mari Yokoo), and who bears an uncanny resemblance to Xian. Aided by his friends Palme continues his perilous journey, pursued by warriors from Tamas out to destroy the egg in the name of their god, and by a strange race of giant killer cucumbers who may be more benevolent than they seem. Eventually he comes to understand true humanity resides less in the body than in one’s soul.

Anime fans can be a surprisingly conservative bunch and collectively turned their noses up at this arty, audacious offering from Catnapped! (1995) director Takashi Nakamura, although it has begun to amass a cult following. It remains one of the most staggeringly imaginative and ambitious anime of recent years and, while not wholly successful, scores points for its subtextual layers and go-for-broke experimentalism fusing Pinocchio (1940) with bits of Dune (1984) and Andrei Tarkovsky movies. On a conceptual level, A Tree of Palme is wondrously dense, if overloaded with arcane lore and terminology somewhat difficult to absorb on first viewing and unlike many science fiction anime unfolds at a steadfast, deliberate pace that befits its philosophical aspirations but may strain your patience.

A bright colour palette and cute, lively characters make this easier to bear than much grim post-apocalyptic science fiction, but by heck it’s harrowing at times. Our protagonists are almost all shell-shocked by childhood trauma and parental neglect, to the point where Popo is so repulsed by human contact she clobbers Palme when he touches her. Coupled with snippets of bloody violence and a suggestion of child abuse, the plot bears a strain of cruelty that ranks it below the more humanist fare from Studio Ghibli. Palme is too spaced-out and remote a hero to fully engage, although lovely wee Moo is so gosh darned nice she and Goo deserve a spin-off and the remaining characters are well etched products of their ambiguous environment.

Nakamura was animation director on Akira (1988) and pulls off a similarly astounding array of visual wonders, melding computer graphics with 35mm and 8mm footage to conjure idyllic fields of 50ft flowers, skies full of giant flying rainbow fish and flocks of CG birds, enchanted forests with strange animals, and one extraordinarily romantic sequence where Palme and Popo visit a clear lake from whence giant “Selene Flowers” rise and cast embers towards the moon. The bond that blossoms between puppet boy and abused girl does move, with clever asides like Popo’s sudden self-awareness before her mother (“I’m nothing but your puppet!”) and a third act that cross-cuts between past and present, contrasting the malign cruelty of Koram’s father and Palme’s slow slide into selfishness. A triumphal, yet still melancholy conclusions finds these disparate tortured souls heal their psychological scars and birth a new world.

Click here for the English trailer

Click here for the Japanese trailer

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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