Profound Desires of the Gods (1968)

Yet again with the legendary directors by whom I’ve never seen anything until now. Shohei Imamura in this particular case, who for some reason is someone I’ve often thought I should look into, and, well, for some reason I clearly felt the need to throw myself in at the deep end. 18 months in the making, then decades in the rediscovering, it is about as “fucking hell” in its way as the title may indicate. Set on an island called Kurage (meant to be a kind of fictional stand-in for Okinawa, where it was shot), the film focuses on the island’s oldest family, the Futoris, who have what may be politely called a problem with incest and are accordingly shunned by the other locals, who see their, er, activities as partly to blame for the island’s many other problems. The island’s transition from rice paddy farming to growing sugar cane isn’t helping either, and Kurage faces a transition to modernity that’s going to hurt. Indeed, it’s kind of stunning at times to be reminded that this story is, in fact, taking place in the modern age, some time in the early 1960s (cf. the scene when a plane flies overhead and a reference is made to it being on its way to Vietnam); the island hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world so much that a certain mythical quality doesn’t overlay much of the action, and Imamura obviously wants to draw parallels between the behaviour of Nekichi and his sister/lover Uma and that of the sibling god and goddess who founded the island in its creation myth; the latter may have an outboard motor on the boat they ultimately try to flee in, but it still feels like it’s happening in some legendary prehistory. Invariably beautiful to look at (they couldn’t go far wrong with that location) over its nearly three -hour duration, if occasionally difficult to penetrate, Profound Desires of the Gods is singular and fascinating stuff; now that it’s back in circulation I expect its international critical stock will rise big time…

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