First off, although based off of the story ‘Pinocchio’, this adaptation is really not for the children. The fact that there is a decapitation in the first fifteen minutes, well hidden by shadows and dust but it’s still a death by beheading, is proof of that fact. Secondly it’s a very complex. It’s taken me two sittings and I’m still not entirely sure that I can get my head around everything that is happening on screen.
Palme, a robot puppet built from a strange tree/plant that can hold electrical charges, reawakens after years in a state of shutdown. Believing that a strange female warrior is his long dead master, he sets off on a quest to take a capsule that holds an egg of some mystical origin to the underground city of Tamas, where Soma, a kind of god that’s grown out of a tree of the same variety that Palme was made of, is waiting. He just might make Palme a real living breathing person as a reward. What will happen when the egg reaches Soma is up for debate, as the people underground fear that when the egg completes its journey; will it destroy them all or bring about new life?
Along Palme’s journey from monosyllabic puppet to the possibility of being a real living, feeling, breathing person, he meets a street gang of kids, a girl being abused by her mother and a small squad of underground soldiers trying to get the egg into their safe hands. He also finds out that the capsule that is now a part of him is also possessed by the ghost of the female warrior that sent him on his quest in the first place, and she is also the mother of one the street gang members. This is one of the more confusing aspects of the film. There is just too many supporting characters with not enough time spent giving them the depth they need for me to care about them. With a lot of murky motivations and enough mummy and daddy issues in here, you might think that writer/director Takashi Nakamura should see a psychiatrist before doing any more work.
Speaking of Mr. Nakamura, mention should be made of his past work on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Akira as Key Animator and Animation Director respectively, as both of these works have an impact on the visual style of scenes. The film kind of feels like a try at making a Miyazaki film like that of say Valley but doesn’t seem to quite live up to the same level of magic that appear in his films. The finale also borrows from Akira’s finale. I don’t want to give too much away as it might spoil the endings to both films but if I can be cryptic for a moment, mutant babies and angry tree woman share some similarities, and themes surrounding choice, the cycle of death and rebirth and the chance at new life abound.
I really want to like A Tree of Palme but something is holding me back from doing so. Maybe it’s the underdeveloped supporting cast, maybe it’s the under explained and heavy-on-techno-babble-terms based plot, or possibly it’s just that it seems to drag for most of its two hours and twenty minute run-time that dissuades me from going back for more viewings to understand it all. This will never be in the same leagues as the other films it borrows from, but for fans that are waiting for Otomo’s or Miyazaki’s next offerings could try a rental or borrowing it from a friend.