Director Imamura was a filmmaker who liked to get under the surface of Japanese society. Filmed in the late 60’s, Profound Desires of the Gods failed to make an impression at the time of its release, but has since risen in stature to become one of the most legendary albeit least seen Japanese films of recent decades. Set on the fictional island of Kurage, the film revolves around the Futori family, who by the time we meet them have already managed to socially isolate themselves from just about everyone else.
They are digging a pit to appease the gods when an engineer arrives from Tokyo. In comes, Nekichi, who is in love with his sister Uma, who is a shaman priestess at the sacred shrine, that contains the only good water close to the mill. She is also the mistress of Ryu, the manager of the mill. I’ll just stop there explaining the plot because it is a huge mess of a plotline. In Profound Desires of the Gods, sex is a primitive and unstoppable force that motivates humankind. It’s clear from Imamura’s view of Japan and its place in the world that Kurage is meant to function as an allegory of the nation’s killing of its traditional gods. Why there is so much incest and sex involved is beyond me.
Looking past that I tried to appreciate the atmosphere and long landscape shots. The camera work both raises the sense of watching through a window and also conveys a sense of the animals. Unlike the big blockbuster Avatar, in this film paradise is tainted long before the timeframe of the film begins. It takes the direction of a drama that shows us the offbeat extremes of a community rather than what we might accept as the norm.
So after sitting through, at times, a painfully 3 hour film, I don’t really have much to say. Sure, the plot is rough around the edges, and I didn’t quite catch on to the narrative, it is also very beautiful. Shot in an otherworldly palette of peaches, burnt oranges and tropical greens, the natural world of Japan provides a fascinating backdrop to this lavish film. Profound Desires of the Gods is a complex film, and if you can sit through filmmaking that focuses more on character study then all out action, you might find a lot to like here. To the others, I would recommend not sitting through this wishing to like it since the viewer is at the mercy of Imamura’s cinematic and narrative judgment.