Eureka Entertainment // 1968 // 173 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // October 15th, 2011
"Brother! Brother, I loved you!"
The making of Profound Desires Of The Gods is a story in itself. Having informed his cast and crew that filming would take six months, director Shohei Imamura's production went on to take an epic eighteen months to shoot. Having completed the film, with an increasingly disgruntled cast, Imamura's film gained little attention upon release, with the director himself abstaining from making anything but documentaries for the next nine years of his career. The intervening years have seen it garner a more favorable critical appraisal, with Eureka! now releasing Profound Desires Of The Gods (Blu-ray) (Region B) as part of its "Masters of Cinema" line.
When an engineer, Kariya (Kazuo Kitamura), is sent from Tokyo to the island of Kurage to drill a new well to provide water for the local factory, he is met by a completely different way of life. The people he meets are largely uneducated, and live in conditions that are far from the sophistication he is used to. Kariya has his perceptions changed when he meets Toriko (Hideko Okiyama), the retarded daughter of the Futori clan, an incestuous family that is a laughing stock amongst the island's population.
Director Shohei Imamura is more interested in exploring themes than narrative in his 1968 film, Profound Desires Of The Gods. Though there is a semblance of a plot, it's clear from the outset that what interests Imamura most is the clash of the modern world with that of the primitive, and in turn, the way his characters are shaped by their backgrounds, and the way a rational man comes to terms with his own irrational thoughts and actions.
Looked down upon even by the natives of the island, the Futori clan comes from generations of inbreeding, and is integral to both the plot and Imamura's exploration of an isolated people. Even amongst the oddities that live on the island, the Futoris stand out. The incestuous relationships that exist between brother and sister, and the bizarre ramblings of Yamamori Futori (Kanjuro Arashi), who acts as the family patriarch, would be funny, were it not for the surprisingly sympathetic way in which Imamura portrays them. They represent the last of their kind, and their way of life is incomprehensible to others, yet they know no better. Yes, they are ignorant and driven by a seemingly insatiable lust for, well, anything that moves; but there are small moments where they realize they are being laughed at, or -- as noted in the scene where Kametaro (Choichiro Kawarazaki) talks hopefully of the wonders that exist in Tokyo, such as universities -- appear to be painfully aware of their failings. To that end, they vainly attempt to disguise their desires. When Kame brings up the topic of incest with his father, Nekichi (Rentaro Mikuni), he is quickly rebuked. Despite the fact that Nekichi is guilty of committing the act himself, he informs Kame that incest is for the gods only, something repeated throughout the film -- at one point through a song one of the elders sings, recounting the story of the islands creation.
In this respect, it could be argued that Profound Desires Of The Gods is Imamura's way of exploring man's destruction of the gods. In the case of the Futoris, it is through emulating the divine. In the case of the modern world (represented here by the engineer, Kariya), by turning its back on God, and allowing itself to be ruled by logic, and expunging all irrational thoughts (which includes religion) from its mind.
Kariya's time on the island has a profound effect on the man. He is initially dismissive of the simple ways of the islanders, and frustrated by their lack of understanding; but once he begins a relationship with Toriko, has his eyes opened to a whole other world. He opens his mind to the bizarre customs that dictate life on Kurage, and allows his heart to rule his head. He begins to integrate himself with the Futori clan's simple way of life, and is besotted by Toriko. However, Kariya is a man whose very being was formed in a world of rules and logic, and ultimately he cannot find peace in his simple surroundings. He begins to question his own actions. When he fails to understand them, he discards his own happiness in order to return to a world he can comprehend. The same is true of Kame, who having found a way off the island, finds he must return to a world that makes sense to him. Imamura, it would seem, is firmly of the belief that man can never truly escape his roots.
Imamura spends much time capturing the natural beauty of the island, with the fauna and flora almost being a secondary character. Imamura was extremely demanding when making Profound Desires Of The Gods, and his devotion to the project has resulted in a visually sumptuous film, that, sadly, begins to drag during the second act as the themes that are central to the film are too often repeated. Although the interactions between the characters are undoubtedly involving, at nearly three hours Profound Desires Of The Gods does have moments that drag. Things do pickup massively during the final act, as the plot regains its focus, and impending tourism threatens to turn the local customs into mere entertainment -- or worse still -- farce. This then raises the argument of whether the modern world, in its commercialization of the island and its population, is the more ignorant of the two worlds. By then it's likely less patient viewers will have given up on Imamura's epic. In all other respects, including its cast, Profound Desires Of The Gods is an exceptionally well-made film.
Profound Desires Of The Gods is yet another example of how older movies can benefit from the upgrade to Blu-ray. The opening scenes, which depict various sea life, are stunning -- there is simply no other word for it. The clarity of the image is impeccable, with vibrant colors and deep black levels. The picture is as sharp as one could hope, and the level of detail remarkable. Even details far in the background, such as the gentle waves lapping against the beach, are crystal clear. There is a level of grain to the image, which is never distracting, and only occasional instances of damage to the print. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack can't quite match the video presentation, but still scores well due to the clear dialogue that sits well amongst the somewhat flat mix.
This dual format release contains an 11-minute video introduction courtesy of film scholar Tony Rayns, which helps set the mood for the film. The original Japanese trailer is also included. Completing the set are a forty-four-page booklet, which features essays on the film; production stills; writings by Imamura on his approach to filmmaking; and a Q&A session conducted with Imamura following a screening of the film.
Profound Desires Of The Gods demands a patient viewer. Although lacking in great incident, the plot often feels needlessly complicated. Yet despite this, the film is worthy of consideration due to Imamura's ability to capture a striking image, and for his depiction of a decaying society. The fact that the technical aspects of the Blu-ray are so impressive makes it an even more enticing proposition.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Japanese)
Running Time: 173 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated