I’m not one to watch much Japanese animation anymore, but this one stands out amongst the flood of cookie cutter stuff that typifies what is popular these days. A Tree of Palme stirred in the brains of its creator Takashi Nakamura for 7 years before he got the chance to make it, and the world he imagined is a dazzling multi-layered microcosm. If you’re a fan of fantasy films, and animation in general, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this riff on Pinocchio.
The film makes no effort to disguise its connection to Pinocchio; the protagonist Palme is a wooden robot that goes on a journey of self discovery, slowly becoming more human during his travels with a ragtag group of orphans. At the beginning of the film he appears to be malfunctioning, but we learn his catatonic state is the result of losing his “mother”, the woman he was built to care for. When a hunted stranger from another land disrupts his unremarkable existence with a powerful secret, he has no choice but to set out into the unknown world.
Words alone won’t do this film justice, at least when it comes to the spectacular art direction; the film is worth seeing just for the background artwork alone. The original character designs, none of which resemble the now tiresome anime traditions, are a definite breath of fresh air. And the music, which favors the eerie whistle of the ondes Martenot (similar in sound to a theremin), adds a whole other dimension to the already bizarre atmosphere.
The main issue with this film is its plot and pacing which are confusing and slow in parts, respectively. It seems to me that after such a long gestation, the characters and world of A Tree of Palme would have been better served in a television series. Due to the inherent time limitations some of the story moves a little too quickly and without the necessary exposition for it to all make sense. And despite being advertised as a family film, the story has quite a dark undertone throughout, and ultimately leaves the viewer with a sense of fragility and loneliness. All of these qualities make it quite an unusual and thought-provoking film that rewards the patient viewer.
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