The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees is a 2015 American dramamystery film directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Chris Sparling. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris.

2015 American drama mystery film by Gus Van Sant
The Sea of Trees

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Chris Sparling
Produced by
Cinematography Kasper Tuxen
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Music by Mason Bates
  • Bloom
  • Gil Netter Productions
  • Waypoint Entertainment
Distributed by A24
Release date
  • May 16, 2015 (2015-05-16) (Cannes)
  • August 26, 2016 (2016-08-26) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Languages English
Budget $25 million[1]
Box office $850,985[2]

The film is about an American man who attempts suicide in Aokigahara, aka the “Japanese suicide forest,” where he meets a Japanese man who is there for the same reason. Principal photography began on July 28, 2014, in Foxborough, Massachusetts; the production moved to Japan in September of the same year. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[3][4]

The film was released on August 26, 2016, by A24.[5] It received negative reviews from critics and was a box office bomb, grossing mere $825,577 on a $25 million budget.

. . . The Sea of Trees . . .

Arthur Brennan, an adjunct physics professor, travels to Aokigahara (“The Suicide Forest”) with a sealed package. Once there, he attempts to end his life via drug overdose but encounters a Japanese man named Takumi Nakamura. Takumi entered the forest two days prior and slit his wrists for being demoted at work, but soon realized he would miss his wife and daughter. Since then, he has tried to escape the dense sea of trees but cannot find the trail back. Arthur decides to help but the two end up disoriented and lost. To keep their minds occupied, they share details about their lives, including the names of Takumi’s wife and daughter: “Kiiro” and “Fuyu.”

Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Arthur lived in a crumbling marriage alongside his wife Joan, a real estate agent. Joan resented Arthur for his affair with Gabriella, his coworker, and always putting his needs before their own. Arthur despised Joan’s alcoholism and constant need to demean him for earning less money than her. One night, Joan suffers a heavy nosebleed after a vicious argument. They go to the hospital, where she is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Joan and Arthur slowly rekindle their love for each other. After her surgery, they reminisce about trips to their lake house where Joan would spend hours walking amongst the orchids. He says he will take her there when she is fully recovered.

Joan is transported to a recovery hospital. Arthur follows behind the ambulance in his car while talking to her on the phone. He jokes about not knowing what her favorite color or season is. Before Joan can respond, a truck plows into the ambulance, killing her. At her funeral, Arthur tells the funeral director he did not really know her even after being married for years. The director replies he overheard one of Joan’s sisters saying she mailed a copy of Joan’s favorite book to Arthur’s house.

Back in the present, Arthur and Takumi struggle to escape the forest. They survive falls, a flash flood, dehydration, and hypothermia over the course of a single night. Along the way, they encounter the bodies of others who succeeded in ending their lives. They take refuge in a tent with a corpse who brought emergency supplies with them. Sitting by a campfire, Arthur tells Takumi he is in the forest because of his guilt over how he and Joan treated each other.

The next morning, Arthur leaves an ill Takumi by the tent to try and find help. He promises Takumi he will come back for him. Arthur uses the walkie-talkie from the deceased camper and makes contact with the park rangers. He tries to help but is too weak to inform them that Takumi is still in the forest.

12 days later, Arthur is being evaluated by a hospital psychiatrist before his release. His plans are to return to the forest and find Takumi; the psychiatrist informs him that the rangers found the tent he spoke of but did not find anyone there. She also claims that there is no one by the name of Takumi Nakamura who has a wife and daughter with the names Takumi mentioned, and that the camera at the entrance to the park only shows Arthur entering the forest.

Arthur returns to the forest and finds the unopened package he left behind when he first found Takumi. Arthur locates the tent and coat he used to cover Takumi for warmth but finds a beautiful orchid in Takumi’s place. He remembers Takumi describing the forest as a form of purgatory, where the spirits of your loved ones are closest during your darkest moments. He opens the package containing Joan’s favorite book: a copy of Hansel and Gretel. Arthur realizes that Takumi was Joan’s spirit and is helping him heal his guilt.

Arthur returns to the United States and brings the orchid with him. During office hours, Arthur’s student Eric reveals that the names of Takumi’s wife and daughter are not names but words that mean “yellow” and “winter.” Arthur remembers the last conversation he had with his wife about her favorite color and season. He travels to the lake house and plants the orchid in Joan’s garden.

. . . The Sea of Trees . . .

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. . . The Sea of Trees . . .

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