On an insular island in modern-day Japan, a band of woodsmen headed by an eccentric, experienced frontiersman named Tatsuo (Kinya Kitaoji) methodically and deliberatively fell trees in careful formation, carving out a progressive swath through the vast forest before ritualistically cleansing themselves at the end of the day at a pristine river overlooking a sacred mountain. The brash and crude Tatsuo has also taken on an apprentice in the impressionable and cruel Ryota (Ryota Nakamoto), and begins to initiate the young man into his idiosyncratic natural doctrine: exposing himself in order to “satisfy” the mother goddess and curry favor from her; offering silent prayers to appease her; reverting to a primitive (and characteristically brutal and inhumane) way of life by hunting with vicious, trained attack dogs. Explaining his anthropomorphic, carnal relationship with the mother goddess, Tatsuo believes that his personal communion with nature is mutually rewarded through their sustained favorable climate, ecological balance, and prosperity. One day, Tatsuo’s longtime friend, a rugged fisherman named Toshio (Rikiya Yasuoka), accompanies him on a hunting expedition that results in the killing of several sacred monkeys. The village fishermen ominously view the reckless act as a harbinger of bad fortune to their livelihood: a prescience that is soon validated when fish are found floating lifeless one morning after being smothered to death by an inordinate quantity of oil that had mysteriously been released into the waters. Realizing Tatsuo’s opposition to the proposed marine park – a massive construction project that threatens to transform the natural landscape of the rural village to a commercial tourist attraction – the local fishermen become increasingly distrustful of Tatsuo and soon, the town is further polarized by the encroachment of urban development. Inevitably, when the woodsmen’s fortunes turn after a season of interminable rains, Tatsuo’s desperate attempts to reconnect with the seemingly alienated mother goddess leads to a final, incomprehensible act.
Inspired by a real-life incident in 1980 at a rural village located in southwest Japan, Himatsuri is a spare, elemental, and deeply disturbing portrait of godlessness, individualism, and profound isolation. Similar to Japanese nuberu bagu (new wave) filmmakers Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, and Kaneto Shindo, Mitsuo Yanagimachi explores the behavioral manifestations of instinctuality, mysticism, and shintoism that continue to exist beneath the fostered veneer of Westernized modernity, conformity, and social order – particularly endemic to the insular, anthropological civilization of the homo ludens in the southern islands of Japan – that intrinsically define the real (non Edo) essence of Japanese culture. Yanagimachi uses dissociative long and crane shots that visually reflect the geographic remoteness of the island community and subsequently, Tatsuo’s further alienation from the isolated village that culminates during the purgative fire festival (himatsuri). Yanagimachi exquisitely captures Tatsuo’s resulting perception of compounded psychological detachment through two allusive, consecutive episodes of the observer being remotely observed: first, as Tatsuo evasively watches his wife, Sachiko (Junko Miyashita) from a concealed tunnel as she, in turn, watches Tatsuo’s mistress, Kimiko (Kiwako Taichi) from a hill as the latter walks away from the farm; then as Kimiko observes Ryota from the window of a departing train as he surreptitiously follows the disreputable real estate broker, Yamakawa (Norihei Miki) as he traverses a foot trail on the side of a mountain (and ever closer towards Ryota’s awaiting trap). By presenting the duality of deterministic purity and unconscionable savagery innate in a primitive and unassimilated existence, Himatsuri serves as an objective and relevant examination into the root of contemporary alienation, environmental disconnection, and repressed violence.
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