Dir: Kohei Oguri. Japan.2005. 94mins.

Stuck seductively in itsown dreamtime, Japanese arthouse director Kohei Oguri's Directors Fortnightcontender The Buried Forest is a slow waltz of stories and images thatonly reluctantly offers itself up to rational analysis. Set in a rural Japanesevillage that has an a historical, magical realist feel, this demanding butresonant film begins, like Big Fish, as a fable about the way thestories we make up can grow to envelop the narrator; but it's a more poetic andless picaresque trip than Tim Burton's shaggy-dog story.

The event that gives thefilm its title - the discovery of a prehistoric fossilised forest buried undera croquet pitch - reveals that this is also, and perhaps more importantly, afilm about stratification: of landscape, history, religion and familygenerations. And Oguri suggests persuasively that reality and fiction are notnecessarily binary choices: they can be layered in the same way, and shade intoeach other over time.

Firmly in the Japanese auteurniche, The Buried Forest is unlikely to get much more exposure at homethan the films of other non-commercial directors like Naomi Kawase or ShinyaTsukamoto.

Overseas, cineaste marketslook to be the film's best bet. Interest in the film was stirred when it wasannounced that it would be the object of a unique arrangement, being presentedboth in the parallel Directors Fortnight event and as an official,non-competitive festival selection, with Directors Fortnight boss Olivier Perepraising it as "a masterpiece of poetry and cinema".

Buyers will be moresanguine, but The Buried Forest has the grace and charm to enjoy asmall, Last Life In The Universe-style outing in Europe and the States.

The life of the villageimagined by Oguri and co-scribe Tsukasa Sasaki pans out between anold-fashioned general store which is also a cabinet of curiosities; fieldswhere children wash the statues of the altar gods and charge passing motoristsa traffic tax; the supermarket where San-chan (played by ubiquitous Japaneseleading man Tadanobu Asano) and his friends meet up before and after cruisingaround town in a red Mustang; and traditional domestic interiors, mapped with acare for framing and attention to detail that nods at Ozu.

San-chan features in one ofthe stories that adolescent Machi (Karen) makes up with her two girlfriends; sodoes a camel and a beached whale, both of which will later make appearances,percolating from fantasy into reality.

Other plotlines centre on agrandmother who is to be moved into an old people's home; a young boy who isashamed of the fact that his mother runs a louche late-night bar.

But lush images dominatewhat teasing scraps of plot there are: dreamlike images, enhanced by patient,painterly composition and an inventive, hyper-realist use of HDD photography.Twilight (another slippery, ambiguous area) is the prevailing time of day, andcinematographer Norio Teranuma makes good use of the rather mysterious,slightly magical quality of the sharp digital image in conditions of half-light- most memorably in a scene where Machi sits in front of an open window, herskin shining pale in the moonlight.

There's a similarlyoriginal, enhanced feel to the soundtrack, both diegetic (croaking frogs, themusical tinkling of cutlery on plates) and musical (as when tragic chordsundermine what should be a carefree scene).

Occasionally, The BuriedForest comes across as a Japanese Underground, though without the politicalsatire - especially towards the end, when the villagers process through the buriedforest and the division between waking life and fantasy is finally broken down.

Production company
Himawari Theater Group

International sales
Pyramide International

Koheo Ogur
Chiaki Yamamoto
Isaku Sato
Fujio Sunaoka

Kohei Oguri
Tsukasa Sasaki

Norio Teranuma

Production design
Yoshinaga Yokoo
Koichi Takeuchi

Nobuo Ogawa

Main cast
Karen Hiromitsu Tosaka
Tadanobu Asano
Yuko Tanaka
Mitsuro Hirata
Itoku Kishibe