The Sea of Trees

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The Sea of Trees
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Produced by Gil Netter
Ken Kao
Kevin Halloran
Written by Chris Sparling
Starring Matthew McConaughey
Ken Watanabe
Naomi Watts
Music by Mason Bates
Cinematography Kasper Tuxen
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Gil Netter Productions
Waypoint Entertainment
Distributed by Lionsgate
Roadside Attractions
Release dates
  • May 16, 2015 (2015-05-16) (Cannes)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[1]

The Sea of Trees is a 2015 American drama mystery 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.

The film is about an American man who attempts suicide in Mount Fuji's "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.[2][3] The Sea of Trees will be released in France on April 27, in Italy on April 28 and in Japan on April 29, 2016. In Greece, the film will be released on May 1 and in the Netherlands on May 12, 2016.


An American man, Arthur Brennan, travels to the "Suicide Forest" (Aokigahara forest) to kill himself at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, the site of numerous suicides. There he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura, who wants to kill himself as well, and both men begin a journey of self-reflection and survival.[4]



The project was first announced in December 2013. [4] Matthew McConaughey joined the cast in February 2014[5] With Naomi Watts joining in May of that year [1] The film's international distribution was sold to different companies at 2014 Cannes Film Festival, which includes Entertainment One to handle the rights for UK, Australia and New Zealand, and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions to handle for Eastern Europe, Pan-Latin America and Scandinavia.[8] On August 15, Katie Aselton joined the cast to play a woman who has an affair with McConaughey's character.[6]


On May 15, 2014, McConaughey and director Van Sant talked about the upcoming film which was officially slated to start on July 15, Van Sant said, "My latest feelings is to try to shoot in Japan, if it's too difficult, we would probably go to the northwest in the States, where the land is very similar."[9] The film's budget was set at $25 million with McConaughey receiving a $3.5 million salary.[10]

The principal photography of the film began on July 28, 2014, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.[11] The crews were filming deep in the woods in the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest, where they were also using the recreation hall and chapel at Cocasset River Recreation Area, which they scheduled to rent again on August 14.[12] Publicist Gregg Brilliant said, "The film makers looked at about half a dozen places around the country. The story takes place in Japan and the Northeast United States, and we chose Massachusetts. It's a beautiful location." [13]

Shooting began in Massachusetts through September, after which filming moved to Japan.[13] The filming wrapped-up on September 30, 2014, in Massachusetts and Japan, with post-production beginning in Los Angeles.[14]


The film will be distributed by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions inside the U.S.[15]


The Sea of Trees was panned by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 0%, based on 12 reviews, with an average rating of 2.4/10.[16] At its May 2015 debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the film was met with harsh critical reception; it was loudly booed and laughed at by an audience of critics,[17][18] with critic Scott Foundas calling it a film "for nobody."[19] Some critics were more impressed by the film; Pete Hammond wrote "Their film deserves a better fate" and he praised its "paired sentimentality." While Hammond was also impressed with the "beautiful lush score",[20] others found it "cloying" and "ever-present."[21]

Critic Richard Mowe stated this audience reaction should "give the film’s creative team pause for reflection about exactly where they went so badly awry."[22] Justin Chang, chief film critic for Variety, deemed the film "dramatically stillborn, commercially unpromising", though Chang did single out the film's aesthetic as noteworthy, stating "Cinematographer Kasper Tuxen works wonders with the forest’s softly diffused light by day, and makes exquisite use of a campfire to illuminate McConaughey’s and Watanabe’s faces at night." He also described co-star Naomi Watts as "solidly moving and sometimes awesomely passive-aggressive." Nonetheless, he concludes that the film is, "Almost impressive in the way it shifts from dreary two-hander to so-so survival thriller to terminal-illness weepie to M. Night Shyamalan/Nicholas Sparks-level spiritual hokum, this risibly long-winded drama is perhaps above all a profound cultural insult, milking the lush green scenery of Japan’s famous Aokigahara forest for all it’s worth, while giving co-lead Ken Watanabe little to do other than moan in agony, mutter cryptically, and generally try to act as though McConaughey’s every word isn’t boring him (pardon the expression) to death."[23]

Further critical dissatisfaction with the film has been attributed to the fact that "the twists and turns of this narrative fail to ring true with too many implausibilities in the plotting to give any credibility"[22] and with its "complete lack of narrative momentum, it all adds up to a film that's easily Van Sant's worst, and is a sad black mark on McConaughey's mostly excellent recent run. Ultimately, "Sea of Trees" feels like an entirely appropriate title: it makes you feel like you're drowning, and it's full of sap."[21]

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Pamela, McClintock; Ford, Rebecca (May 15, 2014). "Cannes: Naomi Watts in Talks to Join Matthew McConaughey in Sea of Trees". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  2. "2015 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  3. "Screenings Guide". Festival de Cannes. 6 May 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 James, Silverwolfe (December 5, 2013). "Gus Van Sant & Ken Watanabe Journey to The Sea of Trees". The Tracking Board. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Borys, Kit (February 4, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey to Star in Gus Van Sant's Sea of Trees". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kit, Borys; Siegel, Tatiana (August 15, 2014). "'League' Star Katie Aselton Joins Matthew McConaughey in 'Sea of Trees'". Retrieved August 16, 2014. 
  7. Ford, Rebecca (September 30, 2014). "'Orphan Black' Actor Jordan Gavaris Joins Matthew McConaughey in 'The Sea of Trees'". Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  8. Ramin, Setoodeh (May 21, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey Drama Lands Worldwide Distribution Deals". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  9. Ramin, Setoodeh (May 15, 2014). "Cannes: Matthew McConaughey Talks Sea of Trees with Gus Van Sant". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  10. Bord, Christine (July 29, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey salary". On Location Vacations. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  11. Bord, Christine (July 29, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey filming The Sea of Trees in Foxboro, MA". On Location Vacations. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  12. Allen, Paige (July 28, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey making movie in Foxboro". The Sun Chronicle. United Communications Corporation. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Matthew McConaughey filming The Sea of Trees in Foxborough". WHDH. Foxborough, Massachusetts: WorldNow. July 30, 2014. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  14. McNary, Dave (September 30, 2014). "‘Orphan Black’ Actor Jordan Gavaris Joins Matthew McConaughey in ‘Sea of Trees’". Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  15. McClintock, Pamela; Ford, Rebecca (May 13, 2015). "Cannes: Matthew McConaughey's 'Sea of Trees' Sells to Roadside, Lionsgate in U.S.". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  16. "Sea of Trees". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 17, 2015. 
  17. "Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea of Trees’ Booed at Cannes Premiere". May 15, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  18. Reinstein, Mara (May 15, 2015). "Matthew McConaughey's Film The Sea of Trees Booed, Laughed at During Cannes Film Festival". Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  19. "Scott Foundas on Twitter". Twitter. 
  20. Pete Hammond. "Cannes Critics Boo Gus Van Sant, Matthew McConaughey Competition Film ‘The Sea Of Trees’ - Deadline". Deadline. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Lyttelton, Oliver (May 15, 2015). "Cannes Review: Gus Van Sant's 'The Sea of Trees' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe & Naomi Watts". Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Mowe, Richard (May 15, 2015). "The Sea of Trees (2015) Review". Retrieved May 15, 2015. 
  23. Chang, Justin (May 15, 2015). "Cannes Film Review: ‘The Sea of Trees’". Retrieved May 15, 2015. 

External links