Twice Oscar nominated director Gus Van Sant (Milk, Good Will Hunting) is headed from the American pastures of Promised Land, his most recent directorial project, to the forests of Japan, and he’ll be taking Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe with him to star as the two leads in Sea of Trees. For a title that might, particularly to a western audience, evoke notions of Shakespearean whimsy, the subject matter could hardly be more dire. The title is a translation of Aokigahara Jukai, the name of a forest on the northwestern edge of Japan’s Mount Fuji, but it is colloquially known as the “suicide forest” due to the alarmingly high rate of people who take their own lives there annually. McConaughey will play a man who travels to the forest to kill himself when he happens upon Watanabe.
The forest is known for being preternaturally quiet due to the density of its fauna, but it is also mythologically known as a place inhabited by yurei, restless spirits in Japanese folklore similar to ghosts in the western tradition. Details on the script, which was written by Chris Sparling (Buried) and made the 2013 Blacklist of best unproduced screenplays, are sparse, but what there is positions the project as a hybrid survival pic/psychological drama with plenty of metaphysical underpinnings.
For McConaughey, Sea of Trees represents at least one feature project he’ll appear in that’s shooting this year. He recently debuted on HBO’s True Detective, and is of course in the middle of the Best Actor Oscar race for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. After a very successful 2013 which saw him co-star in well-received pics Mud and Dallas Buyers Club plus a supporting role in The Wolf of Wall Street, McConaughey’s 2014 looks a little quieter for the moment. He’s got the big release coming in November with a leading role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but with Iraq War film Thunder Run apparently in development limbo there’s not much that appears firm on McConaughey’s schedule right now.
Watanabe is actually in a similar boat. After his role in Inception, the Japanese native has mostly been operating that side of the Pacific, appearing in Japanese productions Hayabusa: The Long Voyage Home in 2012 and the adaptation of Unforgiven in 2013. He’ll be back in American theaters when Godzilla drops in May, but only has the Martin Scorsese’s Silence on the docket aside from Sea of Trees.
According to a report by Variety, production on Sea of Trees is expected to start soon. The project does not yet have distribution, but particularly with Watanbe and the red-hot McConaughey on board, production company Netter Productions shouldn’t have much trouble securing a healthy release.