Sunday, March 18, 2007

Profound Desire of the Gods (1968)

There are so many must see retrospectives in NYC right now that I'm falling perilously behind in my new releases. Or so I tell myself. But with Kiarostami at MoMA and Imamura at BAM I've been lost in the past.

Last night proved to be a delicious abyss. Profound Desire of the Gods is a Shohei Imamura epic, a scope color film that tanked so badly he retreated to make documentaries through much of the 70s. But it won the Kinema Jumpo
poll in '68 and is much admired by the likes of Bernard Tavernier and Jonathan Demme. Feel free to add me as well.

It's your basic civilazation vs. wilderness tale, as a small island off Japan, stuck in pre-industrial traditions, finds itself scouted by a mainland engineer for possible development. The island head taps some locals to thwart the emissary at every turn. This is the framework of the plot, as it is, but there's so much meat on it one forgets it's simplicity. It's structured around the story of the island's founding gods, the tale of which a legless minstrel sings to the local children and is repeated throughout. Two gods, a brother and a sister, fuck in order to populate the island. One family on the island, the Futori's, take the gods as a template, and engage in a incestual olympiad, with father-daughter, brother-sister, and sister-brother co-minglings. They are dismissed as outcasts, which is confirmed when a typhoon drops a big red boulder on their property. The town won't forgive them until they dig a hole large enough to drop the boulder in. Acting like the gods is a no-no.

But the engineer soon falls in lust with the half-wit daughter, and goes native, which does little to stop the bulldozing of their land. The film doesn't take a facile stance for development or preservation, but delineates the losses incurred by both. It ends in a stunning boat chase - the culmination of virulent small-town gossip to rival that in The Magnificent Ambersons.

The photography was stunning, with the running visual motif being an animal crawling in foreground as the pitiable humans fuck themselves up. A snake, a donkey, and a crab moving homes perform this essential function of the nature's unconcern.

This is a shame really, because it means I have to lighten my wallet and go see more Imamura. Goddamn it.


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