A Tree of Palme (Parumu no Ki) 2002
Over at Iridium Eye Reviews a little while back I was talking with Curtis about A Tree of Palme and he described it as an ‘avant-garde anime Pinocchio’ and I reckon that’s a spot-on description of the film, so I’d like to borrow it!
(You can check his review here :D)
I finally had the chance to see this one late last year and it was compelling. It’s a complex story and deserves a more detailed write up than I’m going to manage, but it’s also not without some flaws for me.
But! I want to nudge those off to the side for a bit and get back to what I enjoyed – first and foremost, the art and the way it fed the world-building was fantastic. It’s a mostly sombre palette with lots of shadow and blues but there’s still variety. The animation is detailed and fluid and character designs stand out too, which is most welcome in a story with a big cast.
Probably no surprise from me here, but I’d have loved more world-building detail! On the other hand, it would have been tough to fit much more into an already long movie, which has a fairly epic storyline.
The music too was moving, from the orchestral to the more sparsely arranged moments. Above all, I think I remember the Theremin most. There’s a piece below that generally signals the atmosphere of the film – and atmosphere in A Tree of Palme is indeed its own character; I think the music fits the narrative and visuals in a way that adds to the fantastical and unnerving setting.
A Tree of Palme was directed by Takashi Nakamura, who was behind (among other things) the excellent ‘Chicken Man and Red Neck’ from Robot Carnival. If you’ve seen that short you might get a vague feel for the storytelling tone, which can be frenetic and even jumpy – that’s not instantly a problem either, but here I wanted a little more of a conventional narrative at times.
And I’m not sure I even should desire that as a viewer, because the non-linear and multi-part structure is part of what makes this film memorable.
Pushing back against that thought is the feeling that some of the sharp cuts between competing storylines don’t give me enough of either thread or character. Overall, Palme’s quest to become human seems too quickly absorbed into the far bigger story at play, which appears as a vague mythology, for one example. At other moments I wanted a bit more context around some of the competing interests in the movie too*.
Finally, I had a bit of trouble warming to Palme himself – now, I’m only one viewer so you certainly don’t have to take my word for it but in my mind, he’s more of an antagonist than hero. Part of my reasoning there is that he is powerfully selfish – or, if I were being kind, driven.
There’s a key moment in the latter half that’s really important in terms of showing onscreen growth, of showing that this is a robot struggling to figure out how to be human, but far earlier we’re shown something that soured me on him right away.
In the film’s opening we witness Palme’s cold dismissal of his creator, for what seems to be years at a time. The wooden/mechanical robot is meant to be grief-stricken to the point of shutting-down completely, and his single-minded desire to find his missing mother often turns him into a problem for those around him, especially Popo.
Now, what is clear to me despite what I’ve mentioned above, is that a big part of my problem is that I’m clearly projecting my expectations of human behaviour onto a robot, and that’s not going to fly. So whether you feel Palme is a selfish machine or a troubled character given human characteristics by the narrative, might fluctuate and change as the film goes on.
Still, I’d recommend this if you’re interested in long fantasy epics and great production values in anime – but not if you’re looking for a lean narrative more in line with a Disney adaptation, because A Tree of Palme is certainly far more challenging!
* Related to this, I think I would have enjoyed the story just as much or more if it had actually been told completely from Koram’s POV.