Palme no Ki is a film that first aired in 2002. It was the début work of Palm Studio. Which I only know as the studio behind Genshiken. The film was written and directed by Nakamura Takashi. Who also did animation work on Nausicaa. How does this film hold up? Let’s take a look and see.
We open with a woman battling through a group of dudes. We then quickly cut to a large tree where a humanoid robot, Palme, is hanging. He activates and begins moving. A little dragon sees this and fetches an elderly man, Palme’s creator. The old man worries about what kind of tree Palme might become, since he’s apparently constructed in such a way that he’ll become a tree at some point. A tree shaped by its memories. It turns out that he was built to look after the woman who used to live in that area but he stopped moving after she died. Things shift when the woman from the opening scene shows up. Palme mistakes her for his former mistress and agrees to look after the mechanical looking egg she’s carrying. Thus begins Palme’s journey.
The biggest story issue is that the character conflicts can be pretty contrived. There’s a point where Palme and his young friend Popo are yelling about how the other one seems different but we’ve only seen them interact for, maybe, ten minutes and the whole impetus behind their fight is kind of weak. So, it comes across as a fight based on them barely knowing each other rather than on anything substantial. Palme also freaks out at a different friend because he asks to see the egg Palme’s carrying even though Palme hasn’t shown that much protectiveness towards it before and he has no special reason to be paranoid. It’s not like Frodo lashing out at Samwise when there’s a clear story reason behind it it’s just Palme randomly deciding he can’t trust this guy based on… the dude saving his life multiple times. And you know you’ve gotta be wary of that type.
That aspect aside, there are a lot of elements to admire in the story. I like that it builds suspense on the basis of this tree transformation. A lot of the tension does come from this ominous idea of just what kind of tree he might become and we see him do quite a few things that make that a cause for concern. Honestly, it also makes for kind of a refreshing change since his personal journey is, ultimately, of greater import than the physical journey. The film is also really good at taking a lot of seemingly disparate elements and tying them together by the end and at providing foreshadowing for how they’re going to do it. Which makes for a tale that’s very well woven. The pacing is well done. The climax is compelling and well executed.
The main cast is pretty nicely done. One issue is that the film might go a bit too far in setting up the possibility of Palme going badly. To the point where it’s pretty hard to have sympathy for him after a while. Instead, you find yourself concerned for Popo, Shatta and the other major characters and what Palme going bad would do to them. I do like that none of the antagonistic characters are portrayed as being all bad. The one that comes the closest is Popo’s mum, but even with her her faults are very human and she’s not entirely unsympathetic.
The biggest flaw with the art is that the facial expressions can be off at times. Characters will go cross-eyed or they’ll be having an intense moment and have an expression of slight annoyance. However, the world design is really well done. With amazing backgrounds, creature designs and various technologies. The action moves very well and the designs are interesting. So, in general it is a nice looking film. It just has the occasional awkward moment.
There are some really good actors cast in this. The best performances come, no question, from Toyoguchi Megumi & Sakaguchi Daisuke. There are no weak links in the cast, though. They all do nice work. The music is also well done. It works well for the atmosphere and action.
There isn’t any to be found.
Ultimately, Palme no Ki is a really good film. It has some issues that hold it back, but it has a good level of complexity, interesting characters, a strong narrative, a great cast and lovely artwork. My final rating is going to stand at a solid 8/10. Next week I’ll look at Idol Project.