Geesh! Impatient much?
And besides, you couldn't be bigly wronger!
Yes, it's a bit slow/hard to get your feet on the ground, I mean with characters running around talking about how much they love their brother-husband and sister-wife and all. A guy's chained up in a pit digging under a huge rock, except he really isn't. It goes on from there.
I have to wonder how Japanese audiences took to this film - it is and it isn't about Japan - after all the fictitious Kurage Island sits well to the south of Okinawa and even in Japan, Okinawa is and isn't Japan. It's a distinct culture. But then it isn't. Get the picture? So this is a film about the collision of ancient and modern set in a place that feels both like the mainland and decidedly not - plausible deniability maybe?
When we'd ask our Japanese students about their religions, most would say they weren't very religious, but of course, Westerners make the same claims and set up a nativity scene at Christmas. Religion is at the very heart of culture and traditions, so much so that we all tend to lose perspective. We go through the motions of hiding eggs for the kids and tell them that some bunny left them before heading to a celebration of the resurrection. So, especially outside the urban centers (and much of Japan) people continue to observe an amalgam of spiritual beliefs and cultural practices handed down for generations. Where else is one of the holiest buildings in the country torn down every twenty years right after the spirit/goddess has moved into it's identical twin structure for the next twenty? And they've been doing this for longer than 'civilized peoples' have been building cathedrals. A LOT LONGER.
So this isn't really just about an incestuous family on a remote island, it's also about Japan's foundation mythology where god/spirit siblings are rocky outcrops tied together by a sacred rope. But on Kuragejima, the people are very aware of their connection to the past and in other parts of Japane, people really do venerate natural phenomena that look like human genitalia and I've watched grown women climb through split tree trunks because they hope to conceive soon. It's a land where fertility rites are observed alongside modern agricultural practices and where the family has a whole host of duties to their departed ancestors (who return during a summer festival and need to be fed and entertained).
So yes, this is a movie about a modernizing Japan still steeped in traditions so old they are lost in prehistory.
Okay, so if one takes all that into seeing a movie like this, it's really working on a whole different level than the apparent craziness of chained up family members atoning for sins. I was totally lost in the world Imamura created and spent a lot of time wondering what life was really like on these islands distant from the Big Umeboshi. One thing I found particularly surprising, even given the less than ideal file I had to view, was the cinematography. It didn't feel at all like a film from the late 60s color wise. If I hadn't known, I'd have sworn this was made in the 90s. Set design was great, with fine acting, and music cues that both echoed traditional Ryukyu Island music while at times making one feel just off center - you know, like the movie.
While some might feel some acting over the top - especially Toriko (which might translate as chicken-girl or bird-girl), who is clearly developmentally disabled (or, in previous eras the idiot offspring of a incestuous relationship) until she becomes possessed of the spirit and mouthpiece for the ancestor/gods/spirits. But it could also be said that Okiyama-san was really into her character in that rather avant garde Japanese way that many Westerners only associate with Yoko Ono.
There are some plotting questions I have that I think will eventually result in a rewatch. I didn't quite get why Mr Engineer rebuffed one woman's advances only to fall madly, deeply for another. Then there was the enterprising son who desperately wanted off the island to see the lights of the Big Umeboshi only to realize
he needed to return to the island to think about things and to understand why
Yes, at just under three hours this is on the longish side but it's still not Satantango (and I thought a whole lot more interesting). Wish it could be said that one could enjoy this movie without some hours/years of prior study of Japanese religion, traditions, culture, and history - but how can I possibly comment on what I don't know? Though I'll be the first to say my studies have only scratched at such a complex topic.
Had no problem giving this 9/10, but that said, I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone.