A determined nihilism holds the hand of religious and sexual rage to depressing, sometimes sickening effect in “The Whispering of the Gods,” a bleak piece of Cinema of Despair from Japan. Fests looking to confront audiences will find plenty of conversation starters — from pig castrations to masturbating nuns — if viewers don’t walk out first. However, exquisite photography and a well-set mood will seduce some auds before the rot sets in. Pic is skedded for a December release locally; prospects beyond the fest circuit look grim.
A brooding score by Syuichi Chino, and the memorable image of oxen trudging across the deep snowfalls of the Japanese countryside, immediately grab the attention. Next scene presents Latin-reading priest Father Komiya (Renji Ishibashi) being masturbated by Rou (Hirofumi Arai), a young man with a dull expression.
Rou is a former student at a countryside seminary who, after finding himself in violent situations in the outside world, has returned to find solace in the abusive environment that first spawned his anti-social behavior. In addition to the sexual favors he grants the priest, Rou’s other tasks include slopping the pigs and tending the hens.
Rou’s co-residents at the farm/seminary include Kyoko (Megumi Sawara), an aspirant nun who’s in a hurry to transgress her vows; Sister Theresa (Leona Hirota), a fully-fledged nun who’s shocked by her own sexual stirrings; a degenerate scoutmaster (Genta Dairaku); and seminary head Father Togawa (Kei Sato). Last is mindful of Rou’s crimes in the wider world but seemingly oblivious to the travesties perpetrated within his own realm.
With impressive speed, helmer Tatsushi Omori establishes the oppressive atmosphere he maintains throughout the film. Perfs from all the players, including Arai in the demanding role of Rou, are excellent. However, the deliberate pace is one long plod in ever-decreasing circles of grimness. Other than show the cyclical nature of sexual abuse, the pic seems to have little to say.
Painterly lensing by debuting d.p. Ryo Otsuka is as lush as director Omori’s gaze is unflinching. But given that Yoshio Urasawa’s script is based on an award-winning Japanese novel, and producer Genjiro Arato helmed the equally literary, fest-circulated “48 Akame Waterfalls,” Omori’s precise contribution to “Whispering” is difficult to determine. Other tech credits are polished.