Tatsushi Omori's Whispering of the Gods is one of those films that should come with a clear and visible warning attached to it. It's blatant non-entertainment, constructed to leave you with a bad feeling and sure to slap a fair few people flat in the face. It's a string of unpleasantness, bleak and relentlessly presented, that only caters to a very select audience. But if you believe you are up for it, Omori's film turns out to be a real treat.
Director Tatsushi Omori (Nao Omori's younger brother) took no creative risks when releasing his first feature film. Fearing cuts from the Japanese censors, his entourage built a mobile theater and screened the movie there, safe from unsavory characters trying to ruin Omori's original vision. And it worked, as it not only landed him critical acclaim across the world but he was also allowed to screen his film untouched in Japanese theaters afterwards. No doubt a good lesson for Hollywood whiners like Snyder who prefer to point fingers to the studios rather than making sure nobody is allowed to mess with the films they want to make.
Omori's fears were definitely justified as his film is a hard one to swallow. Filled to the brim with broken, unsympathetic characters, placed in a bleak and lifeless religious setting, his vision of humanity is a depressing one. It's a cinematic corner apparently reserved for true authors, which makes it difficult to compare Whispering of the Gods to other films ou there. If you push me towards name calling though, I guess Omori's film can be linked to Grandrieux (La Vie Nouvelle, Un Lac) or possibly Ryo Nakajima (This World Of Ours), sharing a similar bleak outlook on humanity. That's as far as these comparisons stretch though.
The film starts when Rou returns to the Christian community where he was raised as a young boy. What could've been a safe haven for this young man is quickly uncovered as a sexually perverse place of filth and decay. Handjobs, blowjobs and rape are tools in unfair games of power play, animals suffer a similar fate in this miniature struggle of the fittest. There is no clear story arc developing, we just follow Rou through his daily routines of maintaining the farm and abusing those in his immediate surrounding. A slice of life kind of film, but without the laid-back atmosphere usually expected from these type of films.
Whispering of the Gods is not as overtly stylized as his cinematic relatives, yet Omori makes sure the color palette and overall cinematography emit the same bleakness as the rest of the film. No bright colors, no beautiful shots of nature, no sugar coating things. Rou's surroundings are brown, dreary and murky settings filled with withered snow, mud and dirt. This visual style is applied quite consistently throughout the whole film, leaving the audience no room for a little breather.
The soundtrack emits a similar quality and adds plenty to the barren atmosphere. Not quite special or memorable, but fitting and moody alright. Omori mixes a typical dramatic score with menacing soundscapes, a safe combination but one that usually works wonders for films like these. It could've used a little extra spark, but that might've clashed with the more subtle overall styling of the film.
Acting is no less than superb, with a mostly young cast that deserves credit for taking on such daring roles. It's fine if your film gets critical acclaim, but taking on such roles could just as well ruin your further career if you're just starting out. Arai and Sawara do a great job though, sprinkling their characters with just the tiniest bit of humanity while keeping their rock-hard facade intact. You can also look forward to another stellar performance of Renji Ishibashi, that man has played the weirdest parts in his career and doesn't back down from hard parts like this, even at his respectable age.
The first half of the film is mostly reserved for common, straight-forward abuse. As the film nears its climax, things get a little stranger and the perversion level is slowly raised to rather disturbing heights. You're sure to walk away from the film a bit more versed in the ways of the world, but any newfound knowledge is probably best left unexplored. Crazy as it may sound, the perverse finale actually makes the tone of the film just a little lighter (relatively speaking that is), but without sacrificing any of the film's bleakness
Whispering of the Gods feels like the film that Antichrist was supposed to be based on it's pre-release image. It's a bleak, vile, perverse look at human kind and religion, lacking any sign of beauty or poetry. Where Antichrist concentrated its shock and contrasted it with poetic moments, there isn't any of that in Omori's freshman film. It numbs you down and wears you out, leaving you with very little except a strong sense of dread and confusion.
Like I said before, this is definitely not a film for everyone. If you want to be entertained for 120 minutes, just ignore this film. If you get off on perverse stuff, also ignore this film. But if you appreciate Omori's uncompromising and bleak look at our society, Whispering of the Gods is one of the purest films you'll find out there. I for one am looking forward to watching his latest film (A Crowd of Three). Recommended viewing for all who still dare to watch it after reading this review.