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The Profound Desires of the Gods ("Kamigami no fukaki yokubo")

  • Japan
  • 1968
  • 172 mins
  • HD
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)

“A hair-raising, richly imagined epic, filthy with unforgettable images and, by its end, beautifully mysterious” – Michael Atkinson, BOSTON PHOENIX

Shohei Imamura’s epic tale of lust, incest, superstition, greed and relentless progress is a superb criticism of modernism, and an engrossing story of an outcast family trying to survive in the wilds of nature on remote Kurage Island. The Futori family, led by patriarch Yamamori, fears the gods yet habitually defies them. Rebellious son Nekichi lives chained in a pit, sentenced to hard labour for crimes against the gods. Nekichi’s son tries to fit into the mainstream of the island, working odd jobs, but is always a subject of scorn and ridicule. His mentally challenged sister offers herself to any man on the island, and Ume, Nekichi’s sister but possibly also his wife, is a local priestess whose powers of divination may be fading. Into the midst of this comes Kariya, an engineer sent from Tokyo to locate a reliable source of fresh water to rescue the island’s sugar cane industry. Kariya soon discovers that his drilling efforts are being sabotaged and his memory of how long he’s been on the island has begun to fade. Soon community hatred turns against the Futoris, as they become the lone holdouts against a plan to build a new airport on the island. Generations of barely suppressed hatred and fear accumulate to the breaking point, and old island traditions are used to justify horrifying consequences.

Made between a pair of Imamura’s pseudo-documentaries, PROFOUND DESIRES was a gigantic, 18-month production and a major release for Nikkatsu. Despite being a disappointment at the time, it has risen in stature to become one of the most highly respected Japanese films of the 1960s, despite being little seen. But such praise tends to masquerade the sheer visual and emotional power of the film, which juxtaposes scene after scene of the natural life of the island (crabs, snakes, insects) with the beast-like Futori family, whose thievery, incest and adherence to island superstition has made them modern-day outcasts. Yet by the end of its nearly three-hour running time, the tables have turned and it’s the Futoris, warts and all, who earn our sympathy, as modernity descends upon them in the name of expediency, and truth and history are transformed into legend and conveniently forgotten communal lies.

— Marc Walkow