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Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

“SEA OF TREES” My rating: C

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

At the outset of Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees,” a university lecturer played by Matthew McConaughey buys a one-way ticket to Tokyo and has a taxi deliver him at the entrance of Aokigahara,  a vast forest and park famous — or infamous — for the number of people who go there to commit suicide (100 or so each year…some of the bodies are never found).

Even before we see the signs advising visitors to think of heir families before killing themselves, we know that the American — eventually we learn his name is Arthur — is in bad shape. He’s hollow-eyed and morose and has a vial of little blue pills with which he plans to chug-a-lug himself into the hereafter.

Arthur hikes deep into the dark and eerie forest, but before he can do the deed  he is interrupted by Takumi (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman wandering about lost, his shirt cuffs bloody from a botched attempt to slit his wrists. Apparently the guy’s career has spiraled into the crapper and he can’t stand to lose face.

Altruism trumps suicide, and Arthurs decides to put off offing himself until he can steer Takumi to a trail out of the park. It’s the decent thing to do. Except that Arthur is himself seriously injured in a horrendous fall off a cliff, and now the two men must rely on each other to — ironically enough — survive.

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