Purgatory Chasm as Japanese forest: 'Sea of Trees' filming begins in Massachusetts
By Richard Duckett and Craig Semon TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
A crew for the movie "Sea of Trees" is staged on the side of Purgatory Road in Sutton on Thursday.
SUTTON — A suicidal American befriends a Japanese man lost in the Aokigahara forest at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan and the two men search for a way out.
In actuality, the two men are Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey and Academy Award-nominated actor Ken Watanabe, and they are searching (at least on Thursday) for a way out of Purgatory Chasm, doubling for the Aokigahara forest.
On Thursday, film crews descended on Purgatory Chasm in Sutton for the fourth day of filming in Massachusetts (and the second of three days at Purgatory Chasm) for a major new movie, “Sea of Trees.”
The movie locales also include Worcester, which is also serving as the film's area unit headquarters. The movie is scheduled to wrap in Massachusetts in early September. Some local filming this week has been taking place in woods in Foxboro.
“Sea of Trees” is being directed by two-time Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting,” which was also shot in Massachusetts). The film will also shoot on location in Japan.
McConaughey and Wantanabe are involved with the scenes being shot at Purgatory Chasm, and Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts is going to join the two men for other scenes being shot in Massachusetts, according to Gregg Brilliant, the film's unit publicist.
“We were pretty deep up there,” Mr. Brilliant said. “The geographic features here (at Purgatory Chasm) are stunning. We scouted roughly half a dozen locations throughout the United States before settling on Massachusetts and this area specifically. While there is a very good filming incentive here (in Massachusetts), we did not come here because it was financially driven. We came here for the stunning scenery. It was the right place to make the movie and that's the priority, choosing the right place to make the movie.”
Mr. Brilliant said that in the movie plot, the two main characters “are lost both in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.”
For three days (Wednesday through Friday), Purgatory Chasm is closed to the public so Van Sant can work his movie magic and transform the famed Sutton tourist attraction into a famed landmark in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Kathy Erickson and her daughter, Rachael Erickson, live 10 minutes away from Purgatory Chasm. Regularly, they walk their 1-year-old labradoodle. They knew something was up because of the beefed-up patrols of park rangers at every block, roped-off paths and a half-dozen trucks and massive catering tent.
When told about the filming of a Hollywood movie with Matthew McConaughey, the two women said in unison, “Oh, cool.”
“We love Matthew McConaughey,” Kathy Erickson said. “We think he's phenomenal.”
She also said Purgatory Chasm and Mt. Fuji have little in common.
“I climbed Mount Fuji. What are the odds?” she said. “Mount Fuji, I hate to say this about the Japanese, but it was so tacky. On the top there are vending machines, key chains. We keep our national parks really beautiful, and Mount Fuji was like honkytonk.”
“Maybe they're trying to get more natural,” interjected Rachael.
“I remember Mount Fuji being very rocky,” Kathy Erickson said. “I think the rock part of it is similar.”
Don Bergstrom of Worcester brought his wife, Anita, to Purgatory Chasm Thursday because she has never seen it. Because of the filming, she still hasn't seen it. Also along for the nature hike was the couple's friend, Sue Cronin from Millbury.
Mr. Bergstrom said his wife has “never been here. She's from West Boylston.” He said, “That's why we came here, so I could finally take her to Purgatory.”
“I'm a little bit disappointed but now that I know Matthew McConaughey's here …,” Mrs. Bergstrom said. “He has beautiful eyes.”
“He's very, very beautiful,” Ms. Cronin added.
Angela Pearson of Dudley took her boyfriend, Tarek Akkad of Fairfax, Va., to see Purgatory.
“I come here all the time and I send him pictures all the time,” Miss Pearson said.
While the couple were disappointed they couldn't venture into the chasm, they were thrilled when they found out why.
Ms. Pearson, a self-confessed McConaughey fan, joked that she would run into the woods if someone told her the “Dallas Buyers Club” star was playing bongos in the nude.
“She's like, 'Create a distraction and I'll make a dash for it.' I was like, 'Do it! Take lots of pictures!' ” Mr. Akkad said. “Now that we can't go over there (to Purgatory Chasm) we're going to see her family at a barbecue, which is kind of depressing. I would much have preferred this.”
According to a news release, BLOOM, an international sales, production and financing company, introduced “The Sea of Trees” at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
“We presented our buyers in Cannes with a timeline for 'Sea of Trees' and are right on target to start production on this original and deeply moving story,” said Ken Kao of BLOOM and Waypoint Entertainment.
“We've made tremendous strides in a very short period of time — first launching the company and then seeing vigorous sales on our first film as a new company in Cannes,” said Alex Walton of BLOOM