Review: Robinson’s Garden

Written and directed by Masashi Yamamoto, co-written by Mikio Yamazaki, Kumi lives a hippie-like life in Tokyo’s outskirts, one night while drunk she stumbles into an abandoned industrial site, except in addition to deserted factories, it’s full of forests and greenery. She decides to move there, even further away from the civilization she had already left. Starring: Kumiko Ohta and Kou Machida.

If you like experimental, arthouse or highly metaphorical cinema then Robinson’s Garden will be for you, if you don’t then you might need to go into this with an especially open mind. In its own way this story does go from a to b, but it takes a very colourfully messy, chaotic and creative route to get there. It creates an interesting relationship with nature, trying to build a space of green living, peace and tranquillity within a stones throw of the city. It’s not hard to see the metaphors for how society destroys nature, as well as commercialism, materialism and the stress of modern living. Although it doesn’t truly throw its themes in your face, they feel more like they’re along for the ride. It’s not focusing strongly on building a plot but creating an unusual dance, developing with highs and lows and holding a strange flow.

There’s a distinctly bohemian style to it, connecting strongly to the hippie roots of its lead character. It feels creatively open to throwing a lot of different aesthetics at you, building something that’s fairly surreal and with a loose grasp on reality but at the same time not overly removed. It does go at a slow pace, considering it’s not building much of a plot, some may struggle to stick with it all the way to its almost two hour runtime. At a certain point it feels like a good comparison with how it feels for people blurring through their 20s with all the sensation of being lost and stumbling through romantic connections. There’s also something to its style that makes it feel like a precursor to mumblecore but with an especially artistic vein.

Within those freewheeling walls, it does make it difficult to truly get to know any of its characters or what they’re definitively going for. However, there is a certain compelling quality to Kumiko Ohta’s character, pushing away the constraints of society, forging her own path and trying to connect back to a simpler time. Her relentless desire to grow and cherish a green palace for herself is especially relatable in today’s world, while we’re constantly reminded of the impact of not doing so. Although her performance can go over the top at times and become slightly unclear what she’s trying to demonstrate. She’s undoubtedly the key to the film but the rest of the characters aren’t really given enough to make a real impression. With the exception of Kumi’s curious little follower, an adorable young girl who just seems to find her way into everything.

Robinson’s Garden is colourful, creative and artistic but asks you to dig a little deeper than most viewers might be willing to. It’s imaginative chaos, straying into a surreal realm while never truly leaving the everyday, a reflection of leaving behind city life to embrace nature. Some of its themes still feel very relevant but they’re presented in a fairly loose manner so its overall intentions aren’t entirely clear. It’s also asking a lot to hold onto your average audience for almost two hours without a stronger focus but this one’s more for those who enjoy cinema when it’s about the journey not the destination, and the messiness along the way.

Verdict: ✯✯½ | 5/10

Available on Special Edition Blu-ray from August 25th on Vinegar Syndrome & other retailers September 27th

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