While it’s not completely unknown, i’d say A Tree Of Palme it’s quite obscure, definitely forgotten, overlooked and rarely discussed, despite being created, written and directed by respected anime veteran Takashi Nakamura, who also previously worked as a key animator for Nausicaa And The Valley Of The Wind, joined the acclaimed anime anthology of Robot Carnival in 1987, and just the next year would be animation director for a little movie called AKIRA.
It was also laboriosly made over the span of 6 years, and you can just tell by the cinematography that indeed A Tree Of Palme was treated as a big project that Nakamura wanted to cultivate as well as possible without compromises to his vision.
The story concerns the titular Palme, a puppet created by a man for his sickly wife, and upon her death the puppet becomes paralyzed by sorrow, until he accidentally stumbles upon a misterious woman (whom Palme mistakes for the man’s dead wife, Xian) being pursued, and she entrusts the puppet to deliver a certain special item to a sacred place called Tama.
So, this doesn’t really sound like Pinocchio, does it?
The plot doesn’t really resemble the one from Carlo Collodi’s book (or its popular adaptations, animated and-or live-action), but indeniable there are allusions to Pinocchio’s tale, and it does feature a puppet boy tasked to reach a mystical land, this time with a sci-fi angle, but still, a puppet boy (still made of wood, too) created by a lonesome old man to alleviate a family situation, and he does want to become human, like REALLY wants to be human.
There are also other scenes and situations that evoke strong parallels, also providing mostlysuperficial similarities, but still, a strong yet vague echo of Collodi’s opus resonates in what it’s a peculiar anime film that clearly wants to be and IS its own thing.
Real Boy Ratio:
Getting down to it, the Pinocchio allusions aren’t just surface level choices, as our protagonist’s arc is indeed about learning humanity as a non-human character.
Though here the lesson that Palme eventually learns (and the “reward” for his actions) is different from the book’s overall message, which was basically to “behave and obey the grown ups otherwise a lot of really fucked up shit might happen to you”. More in line with modern adaptations of the tale, like the recent Guillermo Del Toro’s one.
Palme itself has got a child-like face and naive aspect, and like Pinocchio has a wide-eyed personality, he’s shown being both incredibly kind and incredibly cruel as children can, though Palme is far less of a brat, as he has a different purpose in the family dynamic, but also he can be a lot more terrifying, as he often tries to keep moving when his body joints come loose, he gets damaged and has “blood-oil” sloshing from his wounds alongside some of its threads and “guts”, and he’s susceptible of turning back into a tree if exposed to the sun too much.
though Palme isn’t friendly looking as pinocchio, heck, especially at the beginning he’s terrifying when he keeps moving despite most of it’s body being disjointed or ripped apart by a strange thunderstorm, as he falls down a giant tree, with its “blood” and wires all over the place.
A Tree Of Palme’s world it’s quite interesting, not totally original but it has a strange set of creatures, decent worldbuilding, great visuals, the animation it’s great, even the CG is top notch and perfectly integrated, because it’s a beauty to behold and technically amazing work.
The problem with it it’s not its premise vaguely alluding at Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, the level of “fidelity” isn’t the issue regardless since the plot has very little in common beside some parallels and typical sci-fi themes, but it’s that it feels… just too much.
Too many characters, too many subplots, too many motivations and so on.
It’s a pretty long movie, you definitely feel its 2 hours and 15 minutes of runtime, and mostly because the plot feels like has too much thrown into it, and it’s not always particularly intriguing stuff,; it’s not a mess, it all connects and it’s not confusing to follow, at all, but feel overwrote, bloated, with too many characters that have some very nice design but aren’t as interesting as one would expect, close to it but not quite enough, so you don’t feel as invested as you should.
Palme would be the one that would be easier to accept as less characterized as he’s basically a robot reacting to stuff happening around him and just following what little of his memories tell him he has to do or go to, but he ends up slightly more on the annoying than cute side of his naive nature.
It’s easy to become kinda alienated by how much lore and characters name and subplots are thrown at the viewer, and the odd, slow pacing doesn’t really help, as does the way the story.. well, unfolds isn’t the correct term, there are developments and twists you don’t always see coming, but for the wrong reasons, as in, we have character already established suddendly doing something that doesn’t quite fit, only for Palme to gain some allies, or for the viewer to learn more about the relationships between characters, because there’s also this kinda complicated tussle between various tribes living in the “upper sphere” that worshipped a giant tree-divinity.
That last one (which i won’t discuss in details due to huge spoilers) its just the perfect example of how this movie can suddendly unload heavy-fire exposition dialogues that are DENSE with lore.
It’s overwhelming, and at times underwhelming, like the abrupt ending, or “stop” more like, that was an ending in a technical manner, but it felt like stopping just short of its destination, even for japanese animated films feels jarringly abrupt, which would be quite fine if it didn’t leave the viewer scratching its head and with some important questions just plainly unanswered.
There are some stand-out scenes, mostly the one where you can feel Nakamura was reminiscing about his time working on Akira or something, because there’s also a body horror-esque transformation sequence involving life fibers-vines-tentacles. Still cool and fuckin creepy, though.
A Tree Of Palme is definitely an uncompromised vision, a strong yet flawed vision, which may left one disappointed, for legitimate reasons, like how oddly difficult is to really care for the plot and characters (or the overabundant lore) in a consistent manner, but i can’t also deny i was still intrigued to see where it was gonna go, so that in itself it’s a recommendation to check it out.
Definitely it has got a certain atmosphere to it, great visuals, great animation, good designs, but it a shame it doesn’t come perfectly together due to overwrote script, oddly paced story beats, well crafted but not that inspired art direction that plucks from other movies Takamura worked on decades ago, and decent characters that just fall short of being proper interesting.
It’s one that you might want to rewatch and re-evaluate, definitely for a niche but also a movie you might adore exactly for what it is, for its strenghts as much as its flaws.
Quite an intriguing film that does need more love.