The Hero's Journey - A Tree of Palme / パルムの樹 (2002)

Directed by Takashi Nakamura, A Tree of Palme follows a puppet made from a Kooloop Tree by the name of Palme, invented by an old man in the company of a woman, Xian. Draped in clothes to protect him from the Sun, he lives off of and follows memories that he had once heard. Combining nature with the dissonance of morality in what it means to be a human being A Tree of Palme delves stylishly into the tale of Pinocchio; if not perhaps abrasively, in an attempt not to sugarcoat intentions- but to show tribulation in what we take for granted each day, as what the characters show in their flaws; is made up for in surrounding coy nature.

fig. 1 - Palme hugs Koram in their mind-space surrounded by fabricated flowers.

Complications occur when you begin to shuffle A Tree of Palme crassly into the template of The Hero's Journey, as with any story that follows a theme of memory, is often fragmented from the beginning and slowly unravels with one or several determiners. (Usually natural) A Tree of Palme is no different to this but odd in a sense that whilst the distance traveled is linear; i.e the characters never revisit the same place nor retrace their steps backwards; and instead only keep moving forward; the aspirations and wants of the characters are not. For a film composed with a heavy emphasis on memory as a theme; it seems all but forgotten at the end. 

The Call to Adventure / Refusal of the Call

In just over two hours of length it would be an understatement to say Nakamura takes his time to scratch the surface of depth in A Tree of Palme's story; but without mentioning the aforementioned slow-pace it would also be impossible to reference the causation for initial doubt into what A Tree of Palme is truly about. At the beginning Palme's Call to Adventure is a slow one; and one that he does not yet himself realize. An interesting attribute of the "Call to Adventure" is that for it to be recognized fully it has to be directly imposed onto the main character. Without a tree there can be no Woodpecker.

From Palme's perspective he does not yet have full consciousness. There is no Call to Adventure. However, an outside force in the form of a woman familiar to Palme appears. Still without self-awareness he is given a task to complete. - Take an Egg to a place named Tamas. The Egg becomes part of Palme, both physically and mentally. This becomes the Trojan Horse of the Call to Adventure. The problem with naming this a "call" of sorts is in the mental capability of Palme himself. He does not refuse this task but as he has no concept of danger, hardships or struggles he may encounter Palme would not to begin with. But instead, is lead initially by a greater force.

Supernatural Aid / Crossing the Threshold

Palme's ability to conceive thoughts of his own greatly limit his part in the story to nothing more than a character that mindlessly follows whatever he may or may not get caught up in. With little to no thoughts of his own it could be assumed that Palme would have no drive to carry anything out. However the inclusion of nature as a major theme in A Tree of Palme linking with Supernatural Aid becomes especially obvious when all of Palme's drive to continue along without his own consciousness is influenced by the colour blue. Palme's lack of self-doubt sets him aside as a character removed from our own understanding of what it means to be human and ultimately connects back to A Tree of Palme's story-structure being completely linear. - Only ever moving forward. Never does Palme want to turn back or second-guess himself. He is completely guided by Supernatural Aid without any reluctance and with this crosses the threshold of his previous life. No longer does he lay dormant on a tree, waiting..

fig. 2 - Palme mesmerized by his blue pendant.

The Belly of the Whale / Road of Trials

At 40 minutes in Palme's ability to chase a blue light has been as innocent as a child chasing butterflies with no afterthought as what to do with one once caught. The blue light - also connected to a woman named Xian - leads Palme to a girl who shares a similar likeness to his memory of her. His ability to act rationally, arguably humanly towards someone he has never seen before is when Palme is how Palme is plunged into the belly of the whale. Albeit his own doing. He does not know how to deal with a butterfly once it is caught. 

Meeting the Goddess / Woman as Temptress

By having no consciousness nor conscience Palme is lead entirely by his memories. Using overly friendly language and clinging to the Xian look-alike, Popo, he frightens the naturally timid girl. She screams and Palme's presence becomes known. Before long, he is all but attempted to be sold and captured by Raiders that desire the Egg of Tamas inevitably inside of Palme. Lastly, he becomes broken and begins to turn back into a tree. Through all of this he remains unaware of his wrong doing until Nakamura brings back nature to coincide with this change of pace - and change of pace it is.

fig. 3 - Learning Xian / Koram is gone. Remains in spirit
Atonement with Father

As said at the beginning, the call to adventure in A Tree of Palme acts as a trojan horse for a much deeper struggle Palme begins to have. One about understanding and accepting himself & his surroundings. Lead by blue and the memory of Xian, Palme becomes encased in trouble during his efforts to reconnect with Xian through Popo. Whilst possible to accept that Xian is a temptress of sorts it is not without hindrance that she is an extremely passive one at that. Popo, portraying Xian metaphorically, brings to light the essence of Palme's memory of her to reality. 

Unlike Pinocchio, we do not see the inventor much,  nor is he mentioned. A gut reaction would be to assume then, that Palme lacks a father figure. Simply Palme's lack of a father figure does not make a difference when he has no concept of the latter to begin with. There is longing for Xian, but only from the inventor's final wishes. A paradox is created through Palme's empty shell of consciousness as it becomes the messenger for the inventor's last wish. To find Xian. As Palme encounters trouble from his desperate struggle to search for Xian, resolve is finally settled as both Palme and the inventor succumb to the reality that Xian is dead. - But she lives on in spirit. Though sounding as if A Tree of Palme is ready to pack itself up and finish this existential plot changer is played off as a minor event. It continues at the exact one hour mark ready to begin again. Half way through. Nonetheless as a result of this the structure of A Tree of Palme is something to deliberate - and especially in the context of A Hero's Journey.

Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon & Palme's Call to Adventure (Part II)

With understanding comes great responsibility, and as the cliche stands it holds true for Palme and his future actions on his journey. Knowing Xian is dead, but enough closure to believe she is with him in spirit gains Palme his consciousness. This is the Ultimate Boon. Now, able to speak properly and think for himself he can not only have retribution with Popo, but begin to have his own wants and needs. Palme's Apotheosis, his God-like state, in relation to himself is his own consciousness. - Outside of Palme's perception of the world it would be relative to what we as humans describe the birth of life. Or - the age of self-awareness in a child. Becoming self-aware that he is infact a puppet ontop of his closure about Xian transitions Palme into becoming something more. That something being achieving the body of a human. Explicitly and only this - with no mention of humanity. But as Palme comprehends it, it is his "Call to Adventure".

"If I was human your mother wouldn't talk to me like she does now" (Palme to Popo) It is an extremely physical statement based entirely off of physical appearance and judgment.

After the one hour mark, A Tree of Palme resets its' story and starts anew. As Palme chases his desire to become human for the sake of Popo new relationships are built. Palme begins to see Shatta, someone he had met previously as a father figure. - Although it is debatable the only reason he sees Shatta as a father figure compared to any other male is that Shatta is "human". The road of trials is revisited as Palme is yet again chased by the same raiders from before. Him, Shatta & Popo must travel to Tamas to visit a being named Soma. Symbolically and metaphorically Soma stands for the exact definition of the word. The body separate from the mind.

Soma becomes the temptress as Popo continues to be the Goddess. Palme still believes that he must become human for Popo. As the road of trials continues Palme's need for guidance becomes a frontal theme of his inner monologue. (Regardless that you never hear it) As they run away from raiders and more importantly to the situation a monster, Shatta defends Palme & Popo with a sword. Unfortunately regardless that Palme wants to become human he fails to understand the fundamentals of right and wrong. Similar to his inability to predict the future his lack of morality and the realistic conclusion of death (as he is a puppet) is troublesome. So much so he purposely kills a fawn, not realizing that when it dies it does not come back.

 Eventually; Palme's story begins to wrap up. We learn that a person named Koram had been controlling Palme and thus the original Call to Adventure belonged to her, not Palme. As Palme gains consciousness she becomes more and more stressed at the possibility she may not find her Father. The resolve of A Tree of Palme comes from Palme reaching Soma - and quite literally. He accepts and understands that he cannot become human; and that it is more important to exist in spirit than physical terms. Koram finds Atonement with her Father with the understand he is gone; but that it was not her fault. There is no refusal of return because akin to the format of A Tree of Palme it remains linear to the end. They never look back and only look towards the future.

fig. 4 - Palme saying goodbye to Popo

Master of Two Worlds/ Freedom to Live

As Palme turns back into a Tree he promises to look after Popo in spirit. Being able to bridge a gap between the physical and spiritual world makes him a master of two worlds as well as the freedom to do so. But by doing so he cannot return!

Ultimately A Tree of Palme, does not follow The Hero's Journey as an exact template of steps but it does break the multiple theories up inside the story to properly fit the direction Nakamura had envisioned to create a balance of metaphor and relation to Body and Soma. If A Tree of Palme had used The Hero's Journey step-for-step it would not be nearly as complex but equally lose some of it's edge specific to the theme of memory & the illusion of two characters working against each other in one being.

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